Hawkeye volleyball adds young depth to roster

Iowa volleyball has a lot of newcomers to work into the rotation for the upcoming season.

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Hawkeye volleyball adds young depth to roster

Iowa's Griere Hughes at Iowa Volleyball Media Day at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Friday, August 17, 2018. The Hawkeyes kick off their 2018 season on August 25 against Southern Methodist University at the LUV Invitational in Nashville, Tennessee, and open at home on September 9 against Eastern Illinois.

Iowa's Griere Hughes at Iowa Volleyball Media Day at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Friday, August 17, 2018. The Hawkeyes kick off their 2018 season on August 25 against Southern Methodist University at the LUV Invitational in Nashville, Tennessee, and open at home on September 9 against Eastern Illinois.

Lily Smith

Iowa's Griere Hughes at Iowa Volleyball Media Day at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Friday, August 17, 2018. The Hawkeyes kick off their 2018 season on August 25 against Southern Methodist University at the LUV Invitational in Nashville, Tennessee, and open at home on September 9 against Eastern Illinois.

Lily Smith

Lily Smith

Iowa's Griere Hughes at Iowa Volleyball Media Day at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Friday, August 17, 2018. The Hawkeyes kick off their 2018 season on August 25 against Southern Methodist University at the LUV Invitational in Nashville, Tennessee, and open at home on September 9 against Eastern Illinois.

Anna Kayser, Assistant Sports Editor

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In the Iowa volleyball program’s fifth year of rebuilding under head coach Bond Shymansky, uncertainty tempers the expectations for Iowa’s NCAA Tournament goal.

Almost half of Iowa’s roster going into this season has never put on a Hawkeye uniform before. Of the seven newcomers, six are freshmen.

Blending the returners with transfers and freshmen hasn’t been a problem recently for Shymansky, most notably last season with the production from transfer outside hitter Taylor Louis and the offensive leadership from then-freshman setter Brie Orr.

However, with the loss of senior leadership, those newcomers are going to have to step up.

Of the main six offensive talents in 2017, only three return. Middle blockers Jess Janota and Kelsey O’Neill graduated, and blooming outside hitter Claire Sheehan transferred to Minnesota in January.

Janota, Sheehan, and O’Neill combined for 47 percent of the team’s kills last season, creating a big challenge for this year’s offense to fill the void.

The roster’s only middle blockers to fill the holes Janota and O’Neill left are freshmen, making the squad very young in the middle going up against Big Ten competition, arguably the best in the nation.

As seen with Orr last year, growth on the court can come quickly when players are thrown into regular action.

“We have some really dynamic and very sizable middles with a lot of length and height,” Shymansky said. “It should be a fun season for them as they develop, too.”

To replace Sheehan, a freshman last year who grew into her role as a dominant outside attacker, Shymansky’s squad has added a transfer in sophomore Griere Hughes.

Hughes began her college career at Arizona State, where she averaged 3.22 kills per set and notched 325 kills overall.

“She’s our highest jumper every time as we monitor those jumps, and she’s got just a really wicked arm swing right now,” Shymansky said. “Our phrase that we use with our team is find your uniqueness and exploit it to serve the team, and Griere has some really cool uniqueness, as all of our players do.”

Paired with Louis, who recorded 386 kills last season, the dominance from the front row will come largely from the outside spot.

The heights the pair reached is also a strength.

“I think I’m a small hitter to start with, so I and Taylor go together, head-to-head, because we both have pretty high verticals,” Hughes said. “I think we add a lot of uniqueness to the team.”

Shifts are also coming in the back row with the graduation of libero Annika Olsen.

Senior Molly Kelly is expected to open the season as the starting libero; she has grown into the leadership role Olsen left. Along with her, the back row will consist of returning sophomore Halle Johnston and freshman Maddie Slagle.

“Even watching [the freshmen] grow the past two weeks in preseason has been huge, but just carrying that through the season and the rest of their careers, I’m excited to watch them grow,” Kelly said.

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