The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Volleyball better, whether you believe it or not

The Daily Iowan
Iowa head coach Bond Shymansky talks to the women’s volleyball team at Carver-Hawkeyes Arena on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2015. The Hawkeyes were defeated by the Goldy Gopher, 3-0. (The Daily Iowan/Peter Kim)

Iowa volleyball has, for many years, been a perennial bottom-dweller in the Big Ten, and it hasn’t had a winning season since 2000.

Enter new head coach Bond Shymansky.

Last season, Shymansky’s first with the Hawkeyes, he led the team to a 14-17 record overall, 6-14 in conference play, the team’s best mark since 2008. Shymansky appeared to have a fast start on his rebuilding, with the program heading in an upward direction.

That’s what makes 2015 so difficult to evaluate.

The Hawkeyes returned headline weapons Lauren Brobst and Jess Janota, and Shymansky brought in a litany of Division-1 transfers and four freshmen, with several former players deciding to leave the program, in an attempt to inject his type of talent into the roster. Loxley Keala, Ashley Mariani, Annika Olsen, and several freshmen proved to be staples in Shymansky’s starting lineup.

The 2015 squad was irrefutably more talented than 2014‘s, and it lived up to the billing early in the season. A 10-3 start included an upset of No. 25 Texas A&M at home, followed by the team’s first victory over Iowa State since 1997. The Hawkeyes rattled off seven-consecutive home victories and rode the highest of highs entering Big Ten play.

All of a sudden, it became clear why Iowa has struggled so mightily in the past.

Iowa transitioned into the Big Ten schedule with two-consecutive matches against No. 4 Nebraska, followed by a visit to No. 13 Ohio State, followed by another road match at No. 1 Penn State.

Shymansky’s team was competitive in each match, but the slate of Big Ten teams would have startled even Michael Jordan and the Tune Squad, who faced with some the universe’s most feared monsters.

Iowa still clung to the momentum and the confidence it had built from its earlier success, before an Oct. 7 match in Iowa City against No. 24 Michigan proved many things. First, the Hawkeyes were good and could compete with top teams in the conference. Iowa dominated to take a 2-0 match lead and had the Wolverines on the ropes.

The biggest lessons, however, would be that volleyball is a very momentum-driven sport, and one match can change a season.

The Hawkeyes dropped the next three sets, resulting in a heartbreaking loss unrivaled in Shymansky’s tenure. The loss resonated with the Hawkeyes and lingered in their minds.

They went on to lose six more matches — 11 consecutive — before their first conference win hosting Rutgers on Oct. 31, followed by another win at Indiana on Nov. 4. Even back on the winning track, the Big Ten is not the place to be hanging around trying to build momentum.

A loss to No. 16 Purdue ended Iowa’s short winning streak, and three more ranked losses extinguished any hopes of improving the team’s standing in the Big Ten. A 2-14 conference record indicated a step back for Shymansky and the Hawkeyes, but to be fair, that’s simply not the case.

“We play the best teams every night” became somewhat of a motto for the Hawkeyes, and that’s not a criticism, it’s the damning reality. Seven Big Ten teams finished ranked in the coaches’ poll, with another receiving votes, making up over a quarter of the top-25 in Division-1 volleyball.

After the success and excitement of the preconference schedule, the beginning of conference play had the Hawkeyes reeling, and the Michigan match functioned as a Holly Holm-esque kick to the face. The Hawkeyes were down, and the bullies of the Big Ten did nothing but kick them.

The important thing for Shymansky and the Hawkeyes to realize is that the power of the Big Ten is real. It can’t be said that Iowa’s failures aren’t understandable, but it also can’t be said that it will change. This is still a rebuilding program, one that is irrefutably getting better, even if it’s difficult to see.

So long as Shymansky continues to bring in talent, the Hawkeyes are on the brink of translating their success into consistent Big Ten victories.

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