24 Hawkeyes to Watch: Loxley Keala

Aug. 13, 2015

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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, July 29, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2015-16 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

By DARREN MILLER
hawkeyesports.com

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Better late than never. Loxley Keala and Bond Shymansky think so.

Shymansky enters his second season as head coach of the University of Iowa volleyball team and the new look Hawkeyes feature four transfers, including Keala, a junior setter, who was recruited by Shymansky when she prepped at ‘Iolani High School in Hawaii.

In 2012, Keala chose the University of Missouri over Marquette University, where Shymansky was coaching at the time. The two are reunited as Hawkeyes.

24_Loxley_Keala

As a Missouri freshman in 2013, Keala played all 36 matches (the Tigers compiled a record of 35-1) with 214 digs, 49 assists, and 25 service aces. Her output increased last season with Keala playing 33 matches and leading Missouri with 718 assists (5.61 per set). She was second on the team with 22 ace serves and third with 264 digs (2.06).

As her second season of college wore on, Keala yearned for change. She researched the powerhouse Big Ten Conference and stumbled across a familiar name on Iowa’s web page: the same Bond Shymansky who was interested in her setting services years earlier.

“Once I saw his name I remembered him, how engaged he was, and how much I liked him, his personality, and his coaching style,” Keala said. “(I wrote in an email) ‘Do you know who I am? Do you remember me at all?'”

On the other end of the computer was a smiling Shymansky, who led the Hawkeyes to a record of 14-17 in his first season as head coach in 2014.

“I called my staff in and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to go get this kid,'” Shymansky said. “We had a fantastic time getting to re-engage with her and her family in the recruiting process. She fell in love with Iowa City and the program, she understands the things we like to do in our offense, and she sees how she will fit in so well with those things.”

Iowa’s six conference victories in 2014 were the most for the program since 2008. Four of the Big Ten wins came consecutively, with the Hawkeyes defeating Maryland, Rutgers, Indiana, and No. 12 Purdue midway through the year. It is the longest conference win streak for the program since 1994, when Iowa won eight consecutive matches and went on to clinch a berth to the NCAA Tournament. The win against the Boilermakers marked the team’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2012.

Joining Keala as transfers from other Division I programs are Ashley Mariani (rightside hitter from Tennessee), Taylr McNeil (outside hitter from South Carolina), and Annika Olsen (defensive specialist from Georgia Tech).

“Once I saw his name I remembered him, how engaged he was, and how much I liked him, his personality, and his coaching style. (I wrote in an email) `Do you know who I am? Do you remember me at all?'”
Loxley Keala
UI junior setter

Keala spent the spring semester at the UI, where Shymansky joked that the native of Hawaii withstood “eye-opening and nostril-freezing moments.” When it comes to expectations from Keala and the Hawkeyes in 2015, it is no laughing matter.

“We want to win,” Shymansky said. “We have all the right tools, capabilities, and opportunities in the Big Ten, so we have a really short list: Win.”

The Hawkeye program is getting a big assist from Keala, who is swapping one black and gold uniform for another. She has lived volleyball her entire life: her father, Lynden, was a setter at the University of LaVerne before becoming a club volleyball coach. Her mother, Lani, plays in recreational leagues and serves as a recruiter for a team in Hawaii. Her sister, Logan, was a three-year starter at Colgate University from 2007-10.

“It has kind of run in my family and I am blessed and thankful to be in a volleyball family,” Keala said. “It has helped me so much with not only my skill on the court, but also my volleyball IQ.”

While Keala was excelling at volleyball in middle school, she was also dreaming about the future. The goal was to get out of her comfort zone and experience a different culture. A few years passed and she began visiting schools. She looked east. She looked west. And she fell in love with the Midwest.

“It is the best of both worlds,” Keala said. “You have a pretty summer and I wanted the snow, I wanted the fall. In Hawaii we don’t get four seasons, there is just one. I wanted that in a college — that was something on my list when visiting colleges — the Midwest had all of that.”

The Midwest is also home to a majority of schools that make up the Big Ten. Last season six Big Ten schools qualified for the NCAA Championship, all six won at least one match there, five advanced to the third round, and Penn State won its sixth title in the last eight years. The Big Ten has won seven of the last nine national championships.

“The Big Ten is probably the strongest conference in the country,” Keala said. “You are getting better every night, it is such a strong conference with so much competition and you have to step up. I wanted to be part of that.”

Keala has lofty expectations for the Hawkeyes, who last had a winning season in volleyball 15 years ago (15-13 in 2000). From 2001-13, Iowa was 132-277 (32.3 winning percentage), but the environment has changed for the better.

“Bond has done a great job with the program, turning it around and making sure everyone is on the same page,” Keala said. “Our entire team’s goal is to win, make the NCAA Tournament, and make our school proud. Everyone worked hard this summer, and this past spring we trained and practiced hard; everyone is ready.”

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