Sophomore Bailey Ortega embraces role as lone setter for Iowa volleyball

After splitting time at setter last spring, Ortega is playing every rotation for the Hawkeyes this fall.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa Setter Bailey Ortega jumps up after a win during a volleyball match between Iowa and Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, March 27, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Spartans 3-0.

Will Fineman, Sports Reporter

When all three of Iowa’s seniors opted out of the 2021 spring season, volleyball needed to fill major holes in the Hawkeye lineup.

One was at setter — a position left behind by three-year starter Brie Orr.

Head volleyball coach Vicki Brown elected to tap then-freshman Bailey Ortega to start at setter, splitting time in a 6-2 system with then-junior Courtney Buzzerio.

As a freshman, Ortega ended the season with a team-leading 387 assists and finished just shy of 100 digs.

This season, Buzzerio has moved back to her primary position of outside hitter full time, and Ortega has stepped into the role of Iowa’s sole setter.

“Obviously, growing up and being a Hawkeye fan, I’ve always wanted to do that,” Ortega said. “I have always looked up to Brie Orr, so being able to come in and take that role as a sophomore was a really big opportunity for me.”

Before the 2021 fall season started, Buzzerio announced she would return to her role as an outside hitter full time.

Freshman setter Jenna Splitt, after redshirting the 2021 spring season, was ready to play for the Hawkeyes. And Brown hinted at continuing the 6-2 system into the fall with Splitt and Ortega.

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“I found out a week before our first match,” Ortega said. “My biggest thing, when it came to my mindset, was just knowing that I may have it the first game, but it could be gone in the next match. Even if my name is on the lineup, it could easily change, so I still need that competitive mentality every day in practice.”

In her first match as Iowa’s lone setter, the sophomore from Davenport, Iowa, put up a career-high 45 assists against Duke. She added two more career highs with 2 kills and 15 digs.

With a year of experience in the Black and Gold under her belt, Ortega said she has more confidence in herself coming into the fall. She feels her teammates and coaches have more confidence in her abilities as well.

Last season, Ortega played in three of Iowa’s six rotations in the back row. Now that Ortega is playing every rotation for the Hawkeyes, the sophomore has the new task of playing in the front row and contributing defensively at the net.

Most Big Ten players who spend their time in the front row are above six feet tall. All of Iowa’s hitters and middle blockers are six feet tall or more.

Ortega steps in at five-foot-nine, which can make blocking the heavy hitters of the Big Ten a bit of a challenge.

“One of the things that I wanted to emphasize coming into the season was defense all around,” Ortega said. “I think that our defense behind me has picked up, so I know that — even though I’m not going to get a monster block unlike everyone else — I have defense behind me who is still going to be able to get the ball up and that I can trust.”

Ortega’s current assist average of 9.5 per set puts her just outside the top 10 in the conference.

Ortega and the Hawkeyes will have their home opener at Xtream Arena Thursday when Iowa takes on Syracuse in the opening game of the Cy-Hawk Series Tournament.