By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — There have been 96 matches played by University of Iowa volleyball teams since Bond Shymansky took over as head coach in 2014. The focus at the teams’ annual Media Day on Friday was one match.
Specifically, winning one more match.
“That’s what we felt like last year: Win one more match, then we get into the NCAA Tournament,” Shymansky said. “You get into the NCAA Tournament as a Big Ten team and you have a right to think about being in the Final Four and winning a national title. That’s because every night you’re competing against national-title caliber teams in the Big Ten.”
The Hawkeyes have been a study of growth an improvement since 2014, compiling win totals of 14, 12, and 19. Iowa’s record of 19-13 a year ago marks the first winning season since 2000 and its 9-11 league mark was the best since going 11-9 in 2000.
“I thought we competed hard last year, came up with a lot of big wins,” Shymansky said. “We’re ready to take that next step forward and I know that we’re enjoying the process of examining and exhibiting our true mental toughness every day in the gym.”
Three hitters return with more than 200 kills in senior Jess Janota (260), sophomore Meghan Buzzerio (255), and junior Reghan Coyle (239). More offensive firepower was added when junior Taylor Louis transferred from Marquette where she had 1,148 kills in two seasons.
One of the few things that can exceed Iowa’s fire power is its leadership.
Shymanksy hasn’t had to talk (or motivate) as much this preseason because of a solid leadership base that exists on the roster.
“We have three captains, but we don’t hold captains to be the only leaders,” Shymansky said. “We’ve had tremendous leadership in terms of intensity that’s coming from Annika Olsen, our senior libero. We’ve had great social leadership from (junior) Molly Kelly, who is being thoughtful about the impact of the greater world on our group. We’re getting leadership in terms of offense out of our young setter group, but also out of our coaching staff, and it’s been a joy for me to watch Bre Payton developing our offensive side and our new coach, Vicki Brown, starting to develop our block and defense side.”
The Hawkeyes will be tested early and often this season. If playing in the Big Ten isn’t difficult enough, Iowa opens at the Long Beach State Invitational from Aug. 25-26 where it will play Wright State, Stanford, and the host Beach. Last season Long Beach State won 21 matches and Stanford — the defending national champion — won 27.
“The reality is, the rubber meets the road there,” Shymansky said. “We have to perform and we have to be ready to fight and grind, not just kind of see what happens. I know that we’ll be ready as a staff to help lead them that way.”
The Hawkeyes scrimmage Saturday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena beginning at 2 p.m. (CT). Their first official competition at home will be the Hawkeye Classic from Sept. 1-2.
“Day-to-day we’re working to get that feeling that develops self-confidence, that fights off self-doubt,” Shymansky said. “I like the resolve of our group and I think they’re going to put it to test this year.”