By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa wrestling icon Dan Gable tells a story that cuts to the heart of rebuilding a program. It speaks to the challenge Bond Shymansky took on when he became the University of Iowa’s volleyball coach five seasons ago.
“One of my favorite stories is Dan Gable saying, ‘The longer, the longer,'” Shymansky said. “‘The longer it has been bad, the longer it’s going to take to make it good.’
“There’s too much truth behind that quote. I try to be patient and yet still forge ahead. We’re making good progress.”
That progress was evident last weekend, when the Hawkeyes won at Iowa State for the first time since 1997, then went on to win the Cyclone Classic by taking care of business against Wyoming and Syracuse.
Now comes a true measuring stick for progress. The Hawkeyes open Big Ten play with home matches against Michigan State at 7 p.m. (CT) Friday and Michigan at 2 p.m. Sunday. Seven Big Ten teams are currently ranked in the top 25.
“There’s no secret our conference is the best in the country,” Shymansky said. “I think there are four teams inside the top 10. That’s nothing new. When I first got here we were at the bottom. Now we’ve been consistently finishing ninth, which doesn’t sound like great improvement, but it takes a lot. We need to get to that six-seven-eight spot or above to be a consistent NCAA team.”
The Iowa State victory was a positive step forward. So was the fact that the Hawkeyes were able to play through an emotional letdown to beat Wyoming and Syracuse the following day. They were all grueling matches, fueled by grit as much as athletic ability.
“It was important to get that monkey off their back by winning in Ames,” Shymansky said. “Even beating teams like Wyoming and Syracuse when we were flat, and trying to drag energy out of each other, took grit and an unbelievable amount of guts.”
When Shymansky told his team that it was the first victory at Iowa State since 1997, they made him feel old.
“A couple of them said, ‘Yeah, that’s the year I was born,'” Shymansky said. “Some were born after that. It’s about taking steps forward and accomplishing and setting new standards within our program, and it allows us a springboard to work from.
“One of the ways to increase your highs is to bring up your lows. When you do, your highs get higher and that middle ground we function in just gets stronger. I’m excited about what our group is doing, and I’m eager to see them play against Michigan State on Friday.”
The Hawkeyes take a six-match winning streak into the Big Ten opener, and are 8-3 overall.
Defensive specialist Molly Kelly and outside hitters Taylor Louis and Cali Hoye made the Cyclone Classic All-Tournament Team.
“Taylor Louis went to a place that was kind of unstoppable,” Shymansky said. “Molly Kelly was phenomenal all weekend as the leading libero of the tournament, digging everything, passing great, and showing great competitiveness.”
Louis, a senior, had 15 kills against Iowa State. Reghan Coyle, a senior from Council Bluffs, Iowa, who joined the program as a walk-on and is now a captain and scholarship player, had 11 kills and three blocks against the Cyclones.
“She continues to be a shining story, one that every Iowan wants to know is possible,” Shymansky said. “A story of what it means to be a Hawkeye.”
Last weekend’s three wins were grueling from a mental, emotional, and physical point of view. Shymansky told his team it is similar to what lies ahead in Big Ten play.
But it offered a sign of the program’s growth. That progress is reflected in Shymansky’s recruiting efforts and the coach is excited about the move to the Iowa Arena at Iowa River Landing in Coralville, a 5,000-seat venue that will be the home of Iowa volleyball starting in 2020.
“When we start to pack a place like that, I think the lid is going to blow off our program because there’s going to be so much energy and excitement,” Shymansky predicted. “There are a lot of things to look forward to, yet we are still very much in the present, and getting ready for a great match Friday.”
Iowa was on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble last season, when it finished 18-15 overall and 7-13 in Big Ten play.
“We need to be inside that bubble to really see that improvement,” Shymansky said. “I’m proud of how our team is competing, what we’re doing and where we’re headed.”
By RICK BROWN