Hawkeye volleyball set to return to the court

After going 4-16 in the spring 2021 season, the Hawkeyes will look to turn things around when the season starts Aug. 28.

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Jerod Ringwald

Iowa setter Bailey Ortega celebrates a point following a kill from outside hitter Courtney Buzzerio during a women’s volleyball match between Iowa and Rutgers at Xtream Arena on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. The Scarlet Knights defeated the Hawkeyes 3 sets to 2. (Jerod Ringwald/The Daily Iowan)

Will Fineman, Sports Reporter


Iowa volleyball will start its season this month, marking a quick turnaround from the 2021 spring season.

Last spring, the Hawkeyes finished the season at the beginning of April with a 4-16 record in the conference-only slate — 12th in the Big Ten standings.

Iowa will have three new faces and 15 returning players this fall, adding more experience to an underclassman-heavy spring roster.

“I love all of our former players, but this is a special one,” third-year head coach Vicki Brown said. “Not only because we are going into a new season post-pandemic, and we’re still in the middle of that, but really because of the senior class.”

After competing with no seniors in the spring 2021 season, Iowa boasts four this fall — outside hitter Courtney Buzzerio, middle blockers Amiya Jones and Hannah Clayton, and defensive specialist Maddie Slagle.

The Hawkeyes will also play in front of fans at Xtream Arena for the first time this fall. Iowa played its inaugural season in Xtream Arena last spring, but matches were closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think it’s weird to think about how the last time we played with fans was my sophomore year,” Buzzerio said. “Half the team has never played with fans before, so we’re getting them excited about what it could be like in Xtream especially because they will be closer to us, and it will feel fuller than it does in [Carver-Hawkeye Arena].”

After the spring 2021 season, Buzzerio notched the program’s first All-Big Ten first-team honor since Sara Mayermann in 2001.

The Chino Hills, California, native led the team with 184 kills, finished second with 323 assists, racked up the third most digs with 127, and notched the conference’s only triple-double on Feb. 6 against Indiana while splitting time between setter and outside hitter.

RELATED: Around the Big Ten: Volleyball

This fall, Buzzerio will continue to play every rotation for the Hawkeyes, but she will transition back to only playing outside hitter after splitting time at setter this past spring. 

Sophomore Bailey Ortega, who led the team with 387 assists last season, and freshman Jenna Splitt will be in charge of the setting duties this fall. 

“Courtney as a hitter has just been so key to finding a balance and getting us wins,” Brown said. “Now that we have two setters, the need for Courtney has shifted into a complete hitter.”

The Hawkeyes also brought in new depth to a struggling backcourt with the additions of UCLA transfer Mari Hinkle and freshman Sydney Dennis. 

“I think I bring a lot of competitiveness and positive energy,” Hinkle said. “I just love helping my teammates around me play better with that positive energy and cheering.”

Iowa’s 11.69 digs per set last season were the second worst in the Big Ten. Only Indiana registered fewer with 11.42. 

With six Big Ten programs earning spots in the American Volleyball Coaches Association top-25, the Hawkeyes have a tough schedule ahead of them. Iowa will play a nonconference schedule consisting of 10 matches before their conference opener against Illinois on Sep. 22. 

Iowa opens the season at the Coastal Carolina Invitational in Conway, South Carolina, on Aug. 28 with matches against Duke at 11 a.m. and Coastal Carolina at 6 p.m.

Buzzerio said the Hawkeyes’ goal this season is to finish above .500 in Big Ten matches and make it to the NCAA tournament.

“You have to take advantage of the first half of the Big Ten conference,” Brown said. “This is a different year. We came in as a staff, and they showed me their notes, and we said almost the exact same thing. To get ten wins and get to .500 is a must.” 

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