Aug. 19, 2014
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Bond Shymansky is in his 13th season as a head volleyball coach. It’s mid-August and he knows every team in the nation is working hard. They’re excited, eager, and hopeful.
But there are attributes that separate the University of Iowa from the others, he said, continuing with terms growing, changing, adapting, developing, and persevering.
Shymansky begins his first season as head coach of a Hawkeye program that finished 11-21 last season, 2-18 in the Big Ten Conference.
“We have some lofty goals within our group, but they’re also realistic goals,” Shymansky said Tuesday at a news conference inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “We know performing well in the Big Ten gives you a right to stake a claim on an NCAA berth and potentially a Final Four appearance.”
One thing the Hawkeyes have going for them is depth. Shymansky foresees a rotation that could include nine or 10 different players starting at various times.
“We have a lot of people that are finding ways to contribute, so I’m fired up,” Shymansky said.
Senior outside hitter Alex Lovell returns as the team leader in kills (405) and digs (295). She also cites depth as a strength.
“The level of competition in our gym is so much greater than it has been in the past,” Lovell said. “Our lineups are constantly changing because we have so much talent, and we don’t have a solid six (starters) yet.”
A native of Iowa City, Shymansky calls his position at the UI “the best job in the conference for me.” If his blueprint is successful, he wants the Hawkeye program to be as attractive to everyone in the country.
“The goal is to make this the absolute best program it can be,” Shymansky said. “That means making it a national champion. There are great, prosperous things ahead for our program.”
“The game we’ll play is a lot faster than most other big teams are going to play. It’s going to have more risk elements. There might be times where we’ll have to live on both edges of that sword.”
UI volleyball coach
Lovell isn’t softening expectations, but she knows a transition period must come before dominating the Big Ten.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to think we’re going to beat Penn State in three sets in their gym like 25-15,” Lovell said. “It is realistic that we will compete for every single point and be a threat in the Big Ten.”
Shymansky is throwing out a goal of 20 victories. The last time that was accomplished at the UI was 1994 when the Hawkeyes went 24-9 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. He envisions losing matches the team thought they would win and stealing a few upsets here and there.
“Those are going to be the ups and downs of our growth,” Shymansky said.
One thing is certain: the Hawkeyes will come out swords-a-swinging.
“The game we’ll play is a lot faster than most other big teams are going to play,” Shymansky said. “It’s going to have more risk elements. There might be times where we’ll have to live on both edges of that sword.”
That means some days you slice, other days you get sliced.
“But the end product is now we have a sword to swing with,” Shymansky said. “That’s important for our group to have confidence knowing who we are and how that identity will compete and win inside this league.”
Iowa returns 10 letterwinners and six starters. A five-member senior class includes Lovell, middle blocker Alessandra Dietz (220 kills, 112 blocks, 26 ace serves), rightside/outside hitter Erin Leppek (85 blocks, 24 ace sreves), defensive specialist Kari Mueller (109 digs), and middle blocker Emily Yanny (18 blocks in 21 sets).
“We’re a more aggressive, more competitive team than we have been in the past,” Lovell said. “That’s a threat to other teams to take seriously.”
Other letterwinners are juniors Julianne Blomberg (10 kills in 25 sets), Alli O’Dean (39 digs, 13 blocks in 59 sets), and Erin Radke (163 kills, 60 blocks), and sophomores Lauren Brobst (144 kills, 53 blocks) and Alyssa Klostermann (484 assists, 237 digs, 25 ace serves).
Iowa will hold its Black & Gold Scrimmage on Saturday at 3 p.m. (CT). The season opener is at the Texas A&M Tournament from Aug. 29-30 in College Station, Texas.