By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa volleyball team was prepared for big things in 2015, now, as third-year head coach Bond Shymansky says, the time is now to take it a step further.
The 2015 season was highlighted by back-to-back wins over No. 25 Texas A&M and Iowa State in September. These days the Hawkeyes expect landmark victories in the months of October and November while competing in the powerful Big Ten Conference.
Shymansky’s Hawkeyes tore through the nonconference portion of their schedule a year ago, winning 10 of 13 matches and eight in a row from Sept. 6 to Sept. 19. Sometime afterward, Iowa let its mojo slip and finished with a record of 12-21 overall, 2-18 in the Big Ten.
Enter Mission T-M-T. It is the mantra for the UI program in 2016, focusing (the key word is focus) on True Mental Toughness to fuel success from late August into the month of December.
“True mental toughness is defined as having a great attitude, giving others your best, treating others well, and being unconditionally grateful regardless of your circumstances,” Shymansky said at a Media Day news conference Friday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “As we work to do that on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis, we know that those types of measures of true mental toughness are what will allow us to be successful as individuals as well as as a team.”
Iowa’s roster features five newcomers, including sophomore Kasey Reuter, an outside hitter who transferred from Missouri, and freshman Meghan Buzzerio, an outside hitter who transferred from Arizona. Those two, along with sophomore Reagan Davey and freshman Cali Hoye, comprise what Shymansky calls a “four-headed monster” competing for an outside hitter positon opposite senior Lauren Brobst.
Reuter was welcomed quickly by the Hawkeye staff and teammates, a feature she says describes the culture within the program that will pay off if Iowa hits a rut during the five-month-long season.
“You can see how things have progressed not only in winning, but with team cohesiveness,” Reuter said. “Having that team chemistry will help our success continue throughout the grind of the year.”
“We know we’re going to graduate our players, we have a 100 percent graduation rate and we know we’re going to do it right. We’re going to treat our players well. We’re going to push them to be excellent and show them the way to do that. But then that needs to yield winning. It’s been a great journey in that way so far. I have a certain amount of patience for it, but now it’s year three. It’s time.” — Bond Shymansky
An excellent illustration of team-building occurred from May 24-June 6 when the Hawkeyes traveled to four countries as part of the program’s first European Tour. Iowa made stops in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Ireland.
“A life-changing, once-in-a-lifetime experience and a fantastic team-building experience,” Shymansky said. “I can’t remember most of the points that we played in Europe, but I can remember every place we went and I remember every meal we had and every person we met. So there are great story lines that happen outside of sports.”
Iowa returns 11 letterwinners and five starters from the 2015 team that won eight matches inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Brobst led the team in kills (3.21 per set) and tied for second with junior Jess Janota with 59 blocks. Junior defensive specialist Annika Olsen averaged 4.75 digs per set, senior Ashley Mariani had 32 ace serves, and senior Loxley Keala had 10.84 assists per set.
Keala notices more depth and talent on this Hawkeye team.
“We have a lot of new faces with freshmen and transfers that will help us become deeper in each position,” Keala said. “That creates a more competitive atmosphere in practices and will push us to be better in games. We’re more experienced and have better talent, now we have to show it on the court.”
Fans of the Hawkeyes can get a glimpse of the team Saturday during the Black and Gold Scrimmage in the practice gymnasium on the second floor of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The team will participate in drills and then scrimmage from 3-5:15 p.m. (CT) with fan interaction beginning at 5:30.
“We know we’re going to graduate our players, we have a 100 percent graduation rate and we know we’re going to do it right,” Shymansky said. “We’re going to treat our players well. We’re going to push them to be excellent and show them the way to do that. But then that needs to yield winning. It’s been a great journey in that way so far. I have a certain amount of patience for it, but now it’s year three. It’s time.”