Iowa volleyball implements unique setting strategy

The Hawkeyes have used a two-setter system so far this season with freshmen Bailey Ortega and junior Courtney Buzzerio splitting time at the position.


Casey Stone

Iowa Outside Hitter Courtney Buzzerio 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

Last season, Brie Orr was almost solely in charge of Iowa volleyball’s setting duties as a junior.

The Eagan, Minnesota, native racked up 783 total assists in 2019, good for seventh-best in the Big Ten Conference. Orr’s high assist total is especially impressive considering she missed multiple contests with a concussion.

Orr and her fellow seniors — Griere Hughes and Halle Johnston — all opted out of the 2020-21 season, leaving second-year head coach Vicki Brown with a decision to make.

The University of Illinois alumna could continue to use the 5-1 system the Hawkeyes enacted when Orr was on the floor in 2019-20, or she could utilize the 6-2 strategy she implemented when Orr was sidelined.

Brown decided to go with a 6-2 set with Ortega starting at setter and junior utility player Courtney Buzzerio filling in as needed.

“I am a big advocate of distributing the load to win,” Brown said. “With us being more sophomore-freshman heavy, I thought the 6-2 was a better way to cut pressure on certain players.”

Ortega has surpassed expectations early this year. She is averaging 21.5 assists per match and 5.37 assists per set. The Davenport, Iowa, native has also tallied 30 or more assists in two of her last three matches.

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“Freshman year, you have an idea of what they are going to do or what they are capable of,” Brown said. “To see her actually step up to a challenge that was a big one of running the offense for three of our rotations, some of the things that she has done has just been a really nice surprise.”

Ortega has made huge strides defensively in a short period of time as well. After averaging just four digs through her first nine matches, Ortega has netted a seven-dig average in her last three contests.

“Bailey has done a great job of stepping up as a freshman,” junior middle blocker Hannah Clayton said. “She’s very coachable, she’s very open to feedback, so that’s been helpful when it comes to forming that strong bond.”

While Ortega has been solid this season, she has gotten quite a lift from Buzzerio.

Playing both setter and outside hitter, Buzzerio leads her team in kills with 121, is second in assists and digs at 210 and 89, respectively, and is third in blocks with 38. Boiling those statistics down, Buzzerio is averaging a double-double with 10 kills, 17.5 assists, and 7.4 digs per match.

“Me and Bailey’s connection has ben good the past couple of weekends where she trusts me at the end of the games to execute and score,” Buzzerio said.

Most teams in the Big Ten use a 5-1 system in which one setter stays on the court for the entire match, but Brown truly believes that the 6-2 system is a better fit for Iowa this season.

The Hawkeyes are ninth in the Big Ten in assists, up one spot from where they finished in that statistical category last season.

“[6-2] is usually a great system just to get a lot more offense against a higher-ranked defensive team than you,” Brown said. “The 6-2 was what we needed for this season with us being so young and having a freshmen setter and having a setter that’s going to hit for us.”