DEKALB, Ill. — The University of Iowa volleyball team defeated Northern Illinois in straight sets on Sunday to clinch the 2016 NIU Invitational Championship. The Hawkeyes improved to 3-0 on the season for the first time since 2013.
“What a great win for us,” said UI head coach Bond Shymansky. “To be in a tight situation in a foreign environment and really respond in tough moments with huge swings was huge.
“This is a great measuring tool. Last year we were in tight sets here at Northern Illinois and couldn’t pull out a victory. This year we pulled out the victory. It’s a really clear indication that this group keeps getting more confident and more comfortable. It’s our true mental toughness coming through.”
Senior Lauren Brobst was named the tournament’s most valuable player, while redshirt freshman Meghan Buzzerio and junior libero Annika Olsen were both named to the all-tournament team. Brobst finished the weekend with 38 kills and a .471 attack percentage. Buzzerio added 32 kills and 21 digs in her first three matches in a Hawkeye uniform, while Olsen paced the team with 46 digs.
The Hawkeyes used an 8-3 run to get out to a 15-10 lead in set one. Kills by Brobst (2) and Keala, an ace by Buzzerio, and a block assist by Brobst and junior Jess Janota aided the Iowa rally. The Hawkeyes extended their lead to seven (20-13) with a five-point run behind a kills and a block assist from freshman Reghan Coyle and senior Ashley Mariani. Olsen served the rally and added an ace. Iowa held onto its lead from there, fighting off a late Huskie run to win the set, 25-20.
Set two was a back-and-forth battle from the start. After a three-point swing gave the Huskies a, 21-19, lead, Shymansky called a timeout. The Hawkeyes responded, registering five kills over the final seven points to clinch the 25-22 win. A pair of Iowa underclassmen – Buzzerio and Coyle – came up big, registering two kills apiece down the stretch. Iowa hit .341 in the set. Brobst led the attack with five kills, while Coyle and Janota each added four.
After trading points early on in set three, the Hawkeyes used five straight kills off the hands of Buzzerio, Brobst, and Mariani to take a 18-16 lead. Northern Illinois responded; however, using a kill, block, and an Iowa error to take a 23-22 lead. A pair of Huskie errors proved to be costly as a Coyle kill gave Iowa the lead and sealed a, 25-23, set-three victory. Brobst and Buzzerio had the hot hands with seven kills apiece in the set. Brobst was nearly perfect, hitting .778 with seven kills in nine attempts and no errors.
Three Hawkeyes reached double digits in kills. Brobst led the attack with 16 kills and a .455 attack percentage, while Buzzerio added 12. Coyle’s .571 attack percentage marked a new career high. The sophomore registered 10 kills in 14 attempts with just two errors.
“Love what Brobst did, but in order for her to do it, our passing had to be good and we had to set her some good balls on the outside,” said Shymansky. “She played with no fear hitting today and that was really great to see.”
Senior setter Loxley Keala dished out 43 assists on the afternoon. Defensively, Olsen paced the team with 22 digs, while Mariani added four blocks (one BS; 3 BA).
“People are going to be proud of our development, skill, and ability, but most of all the passion that our group is playing with,” said Shymansky. “Our bench crew right now calls themselves the bench press. They have really embraced – not being bench players – but being players who are on the bench. There can only be six people on the court, and our other 10 players are doing a really great job of coming together and providing energy and enthusiasm.
“It was a great team effort by our entire group today.”
The Hawkeyes open their home slate next weekend, hosting the Hawkeye Classic on Sept. 2-3. Iowa welcomes Western Illinois, Arizona State, Butler, and Oakland to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the two-day tournament.