Confidence is key to playing in one of the toughest conferences in the nation

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Ting Xuan Tan

Iowa’s Annika Olsen receives the ball during a volleyball match at the Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Friday, Oct 7, 2016. Iowa defeated Purdue 3-2. (The Daily Iowan/Ting Xuan Tan)

By Anna Kayser
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 The Iowa volleyball team’s strong start to the season has prepared the players in more ways than one for the start of Big Ten play this weekend.

The Hawkeyes have an 11-2 record, with their only losses coming to No. 2 Stanford and No. 22 Iowa State. 

Winning those close matches against top-ranked opponents are going to be key to success, including vying for a Big Ten Championship.

 “We’ve yet to come up with the big win,” head coach Bond Shymansky said. “We’ve kind of won the matches that we’re supposed to have won. Now, we need to really dig deeper and come up with some big wins. And that’s the beauty of the Big Ten, is that it provides you with big win opportunities every single weekend.” 

Confidence is also going to be really important going into intense play, both on the road and at home. 

Iowa has many major new components. Transfers Taylor Louis and Kelsey O’Neill provide both intense offense and blocking defense from the front row. Freshman setter Brie Orr has led the offense, starting in every match this season. 

With so many new players, confidence has built slowly, but now the team feels ready. 

“At this point we’ve seen what we can do, so there’s just little things we need to improve on,” O’Neill said. “Now we get to start Big Ten play, so we’re all stoked.” 

Senior libero Annika Olsen said that gaining confidence was all about working on team chemistry and being able to work together.

RELATED: Iowa volleyball’s Orr receives first collegiate honor

Confidence in the team comes from off the court and on the court, stemming mostly from the work they put in during practice. 

“I think [we have] just [been] getting after it and grinding, trying not to let any ball hit the floor,” Olsen said. “We’re really working our best, and we know that we’re not going to get any easy points against Big Ten teams, so we’re going to have to work for everything.” 

Olsen said that having a good record and playing tough teams such as Stanford and Iowa State help with preparedness and confidence going into Big Ten play. 

Olsen is a returner this year, so it isn’t her first taste of the conference. 

“I think every night in the Big Ten is such a grind, and that you never know what to expect, and that it’s always going to be a battle,” Olsen said. “That’s really fun — the competitors — we just love the tough aspect of the Big Ten and just knowing that it’s not going to be easy, but it’s super rewarding.” 

O’Neill practiced with Penn State — which Iowa will face on Saturday — during her time at Pittsburgh, but otherwise has never played in the Big Ten. 

“I kind of know what I’m getting myself into, but I’m really, really excited to kind of experience the whole atmosphere because, obviously, I know it’s very, very competitive,” she said. 

Shymansky’s culture in Iowa volleyball revolves around the idea of “true mental toughness.” That will be key when playing in one of the most competitive conferences in the nation. 

“As long as we’re resilient, kind of stay committed to the process in the duration of the rest of the season, I’m sure we’re going to come up with another great year,” Shymansky said. 

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