Middle blockers show improvement for Iowa volleyball

Iowa’s middle blockers have struggled in the past, but now they are beginning to gradually make an impact.


Casey Stone

Iowa Middle Blocker Hannah Clayton hits the ball over the net during the Iowa Volleyball game against Indiana on Feb. 6, 2021 at Xtream Arena. Indiana defeated Iowa 3-2.

Will Fineman, Sports Reporter

In the 2019 season, Iowa volleyball was, statistically, the worst blocking team in the Big Ten Conference.

Iowa was last in the league in blocks per set and total blocks. The Hawkeyes also gave up the highest opponent hitting percentage in the Big Ten. Iowa allowed teams to attack at a whopping .261 percent.

Iowa’s backcourt defense was far from perfect last year, but the numbers didn’t lie. Iowa’s defensive woes were mainly the result of their frontcourt and middle blockers’ struggle to pressure opponents at the net, as the Hawkeyes’ backcourt propelled them to a middle-of-the-road finish in digs.

“We put pressure on them during the offseason last year and even during the fall of just like ‘Hey, you guys gotta add more,’” head coach Vicki Brown said.

While blocking is by no means the team’s biggest strength this season, Iowa’s frontcourt has made strides.

Junior middle blocker Hannah Clayton and sophomore middle blocker Blythe Rients are tied for the team lead in blocks with 36. Both women are .11 block per set away from the league’s top 10 in that statistical category.

Iowa is sixth in total blocks and 11th in blocks per set so far in 2020-21.

“We definitely have emphasized [blocking] throughout this fall knowing that we are going to have to come in strong,” Rients said. “More now we’re realizing that we need to simplify our blocking game in order to be successful. We need to see the ball and block the ball rather than overcomplicating the whole movement.”

The most important improvement for Iowa’s middles has been their offensive efficiency.

Junior Amiya Jones’ return from injury 10 days ago was crucial for the Hawkeyes, as she finished 13th in the Big Ten in hitting percentage last season, achieving a .305 mark.

RELATED: Iowa volleyball loses in five sets against Rutgers

Clayton, Jones, and Rients take up the top three spots on the team in hitting percentage, with Clayton hitting at a monstrous .344 clip.

“This season we are a little bit more middle heavy when it comes to efficiency. In the past we have been a bit more outside heavy,” Clayton said. “All three of us middles have done a good job of adapting to that new kind of change in offense.”

A lot of the middle blockers’ struggles last season can be attributed to their youth. Clayton and Jones were both starting as sophomores last season, and Rients was only a freshman.

The lack of experience was clearly a factor for all three of those players as Clayton and Rients were tied for third in attack percentage on the team with only a .255 percentage.

Brown has also expanded the role of the middles, with Rients getting consistent time in the back row as well.

“I definitely enjoy it, and I am really grateful for that opportunity,” Rients said. “I played back row in high school a little bit too, so I have some experience back there.”

With another year under their belts this season, the improvement from the position group is a positive sign for a team that is still very young.

If Iowa wants to get itself out of the 2-8 hole it has dug itself early in the year, the middles will have to make even larger improvements in a shorter amount of time.

“We have worked out a few kinks here and there with a changing lineup and more distributing the responsibilities throughout our attack,” Rients said. “We have found things that work but we have also seen that we need to be consistent in doing those things.”

Facebook Comments