Aug. 21, 2015
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — With enough momentum, an uphill marathon can turn into a downhill jaunt.
The University of Iowa volleyball team will annually face a rugged Big Ten Conference schedule that head coach Bond Shymansky calls a brutal, uphill marathon. But as the Hawkeye program gains more momentum — both internally and externally — the race continues to become more doable, with positive results.
Shymanksy unveiled his new-look Hawkeyes on Friday inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa was 14-17 in 2014 (6-14 in the Big Ten) and this season more than half the roster — eight of 15 — are newbies.
“They have some things to figure out — Where do I get the Cambus? How do I get a cheeseburger at lunch or whatever it is?” Shymansky said . “What they have figured out already is how to be great teammates. They have figured out how to work hard in the gym and practice to be successful.”
“We don’t mind being the underdog and having to come after people. The reality is, the teams that are one and two spots ahead of us are also NCAA Tournament quality teams. We know last year we were maybe two matches away from being in that boat. This year we’ve set up a really great nonconference schedule and obviously we have a great schedule in conference that’ll allow us to build RPI (ratings percentage index).”
UI head coach Bond Shymansky
A key for the Hawkeyes is how to duplicate and expand on a streak like they had from Oct. 18 to Nov. 8 last season, winning five of seven conference matches, two of them away from home.
“There is no doubt in our mind that we will continue to improve, and we’re building on the momentum from last season,” Shymansky said.
The returning experience, along with talented newcomers, has the Hawkeyes thinking beyond the Big Ten marathon.
“I think we can make the NCAA Tournament,” said sophomore middle blocker Jess Janota. “We have the ability, drive, and passion we need to work hard and make ourselves better and good enough to compete within the Big Ten Conference and the NCAA.”
Janota averaged 2.17 kills and 0.55 blocks per set last season.
“I think this is the year we make it to NCAAs,” said junior outside hitter Lauren Brobst. “This is our passion.”
Brobst posted a team high of 2.75 kills per set in 2014; she added 0.55 blocks per set.
Shymansky said all four transfers have found playing time in the starting lineup, but the beauty of preseason is that the starting lineup switches many times.
“We have a lot of new players, but we have a lot of great people, too,” Shymansky said. “That law of magnetism has applied well inside our program. Great players are drawn to each other and great recruits are drawn to the great people that are already here.
“As a result we have a lot of really nice, quality people inside of our program. They are easy to get along with and they are easy to get to know.”
“A lot of other returning players — Brobst and Janota — are super terminal right now,” Shymansky said. “They are putting the ball away, and that is what we need. I always ask them, `Who’s my killer? Who’s killing the ball?’
“A killer has a mentality, they have an identity in the gym at any given moment. Gunderson and Brobst are dialing it up right now and becoming the killer in the gym. But so is Ashley Mariani, Reagan Davey, and Taylr McNeil. We have all of these hitters and have more weapons than we’ve had in the past.”
Iowa is picked to finish 11th in the 14-team Big Ten by league coaches. Shymanksy doesn’t like where the Hawkeyes are slotted, but when it comes to the strength of the Big Ten…
“We don’t mind being the underdog and having to come after people,” Shymansky said. “The reality is, the teams that are one and two spots ahead of us are also NCAA Tournament quality teams. We know last year we were maybe two matches away from being in that boat. This year we’ve set up a really great nonconference schedule and obviously we have a great schedule in conference that’ll allow us to build RPI (ratings percentage index).”
Iowa opens the season Saturday, Aug. 29 against South Dakota State and Pacific at the Northern Illinois Tournament. The Hawkeyes take on the host Huskies on Aug. 30.