Iowa volleyball jumps right into conference play

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Iowa volleyball jumps right into conference play

Iowa's Kelsey O'Neill high-fives teammates while going through introductions during the volleyball Black & Gold scrimmage in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa's Kelsey O'Neill high-fives teammates while going through introductions during the volleyball Black & Gold scrimmage in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Josep

Iowa's Kelsey O'Neill high-fives teammates while going through introductions during the volleyball Black & Gold scrimmage in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Josep

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Josep

Iowa's Kelsey O'Neill high-fives teammates while going through introductions during the volleyball Black & Gold scrimmage in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Anna Kayser, [email protected]

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Volleyball will start off the Big Ten season on the road this weekend, facing Rutgers and No. 2 Penn State.

At 6 p.m. today, the Hawkeyes will take on the Scarlet Knights, who are 5-7 on the season so far.

“Rutgers is a really good blocking team,” head coach Bond Shymansky said. “I like what they’re doing with their outside hitters and their back-row attack ball. They have some pretty good slide efficiency, too.”

As well as the offense, Rutger’s serve control will be a big factor in the match, with its 72 aces being good for No. 3 in the Big Ten and 50th in the nation.

Although the Knights have struggled recently — Robert Morris swept Rutgers in its last match — Iowa is determined to keep the focus away from powerhouse Penn State.

“Obviously, we’re going to be watching a lot of film against Penn State, but we have Rutgers first,” senior middle blocker Kelsey O’Neill said. “We have to take care of business when we go face them, make sure we are playing our game.”

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

However, the Hawkeyes 11-2 record, with the two losses only coming from ranked teams, has instilled confidence that they can beat the teams they’re expected to.

“I think Rutgers, obviously you can’t count any team out, just knowing that they’re the weaker team, we feel pretty confident that we’re going to be able to take care of business with them,” senior libero Annika Olsen said.

Staying focused on the match before another against a ranked team isn’t new for Iowa. When Iowa State came to town on Sept. 8, the Hawkeyes came out with a win in the prior match.

“It’s really going to require a unique level of focus for our group,” Shymansky said. “We need to go in and compete really strong on Friday. It’s easy to get distracted by playing the No. 2 team on Saturday, but I think we’ve done pretty well this year with focusing on the task at hand, being present in the moment of competition.”

However, the Hawkeyes spent most of their time in practice this week focusing on the Nittany Lions, Iowa’s opponent at 3 p.m. Saturday.

“Penn State is running a 6-2 offense,” Shymansky said. “They have a lot of offensive weapons, and they tend to be blocking people off the court right now, so we’re going to have to hit with good precision and cover our hitters really well.”

Penn State is 10-0 after sweeping Ohio State in its last tournament. The Nittany Lions lead the nation with a .360 attack percentage.

Penn State senior middle blocker Haleigh Washington also leads the nation with her individual .534 attack percentage.

The Nittany Lions have never dropped a match to the Hawkeyes, having a 51-0 all-time record. Last season, Penn State swept Iowa.

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