Position Preview: Middle Blockers/ Right Side

Hawk Talk Monthly – June | Hawkeye Fan Shop — A Black & Gold Store – https://hawkeyefanshop.com/?utm_source=HawkeyeSports&utm_medium=HawkeyeSports&utm_campaign=HawkeyeSports | 24 Hawkeyes to Watch – 2018-19

Editor’s Note: This is the second part in a four-part series previewing the University of Iowa volleyball team’s 2019 season. The second installment previews the Hawkeye middle blockers and right side hitters.

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The University of Iowa volleyball team is spoiled with depth. After strong freshman seasons from Amiya Jones and Hannah Clayton in the middle, the Hawkeyes have gained more depth and height at the middle blocker position, while a couple position changes could affect the team’s starter on the right side when the season rolls around.

 “The middle blocker position is a position that will be a two-week battle before our first match at the JMU Invitational,” head coach Vicki Brown said.

Additions: Grace Tubbs, Blythe Rients, Emma Grunkemeyer, Courtney Buzzerio

Losses: Reghan Coyle

Sophomore Amiya Jones started every game her freshman year, while sophomore Hannah Clayton’s emergence late in the season gave the Hawkeyes a solid M1 and M2.

Jones led the Hawkeyes with 97 blocks in 31 matches and Clayton added 92 blocks in 28 matches. Clayton’s 10 blocks against Michigan State on Nov. 10 is tied for 10th in program history.

“They have gone through a season of playing and that gives them the upper hand,” Brown added. “They understand the expectations as well as the speed. They utilized the spring and is was eye-opening for them to see how slow they game is becoming for them. That gives them the upper hand. They not only have experience playing with the team and our setter Brie Orr, but they are adjusting to the speed of the game. It’s so fast for a middle in their first year of playing.”

With Jones and Clayton returning as Iowa’s most experienced middles, sophomore Courtney Buzzerio took the spring to give herself multiple opportunities to find playing time on the right side.

Buzzerio arrived at Iowa as a setter, but has trained as both a setter and right side hitter. She has become a very versatile player – a luxury for the coaching staff as they put together the roster.

“Courtney has trained as a setter and right side during the spring,” Brown said. “She is showing us that she can execute at both. It comes down to how we put together the team and how she will fit either as a setter or as a right side, but that could change during the season as well.

It’s going to be a fun puzzle to figure out how we are going to use Courtney because she has value in her serve, her block, and her attacking as a hitter.”

The Hawkeyes have gained a lot of height with the addition of freshmen middle blockers Grace Tubbs and Blythe Rients.

“Blythe is a competitor and is a very smart hitter and blocker,” Brown said. “She brings a lot of energy and is the most vocal leader from that freshman group. Sometimes that can get you on the court if everything else is close statistically.”

Tubbs comes to Iowa City from Clinton, Iowa, and brings a trait that coaches can’t teach – height. Tubbs is the tallest among the eight-player freshman class.

“Everybody knows the Tubbs family,” Brown said. “They are very well-known in the state of Iowa. Grace is a smart blocker. She is 6-4 and long and it is hard to teach that. I am excited to see how she uses her length to separate herself from the rest of the group, who are a bit smaller, but faster.”

 Emma Grunkemeyer, a 2018 state volleyball champion from Omaha, Nebraska, plays in the middle and right side, but with a crowded depth chart, the coaching staff envisions Grunkemeyer on the right side to fill in for the graduated Reghan Coyle.

“Grunkemeyer is going to be fighting as a right side,” Brown said. “She is capable of going in the middle, but we see her more of a right side hitter.”

The Hawkeyes open the 2019 season at the James Madison University Invitational on Aug. 30.