Iowa volleyball’s Mari Hinkle key contributor on Hawkeye defense

The 5-foot-9 libero currently leads the team and Big Ten with 4.76 digs per set.

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Isabella Cervantes

Iowa outside hitter Nia Washington prepares for North Florida’s serve during a volleyball game between Iowa and North Florida at Xtream Arena in Coralville on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. Washington had one kill.The Hawkeyes defeated the Ospreys 3-0.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter


Iowa volleyball’s defensive numbers sat in the bottom half of the Big Ten in every category in 2021, but there have been flashes of improvement in 2022 under new head coach Jim Barnes.

Many of those flashes have come from Mari Hinkle. The senior libero leads the Big Ten in digs with 176.

Mari, from Rosemount, Minnesota, first got involved with volleyball because of her older sister Jordan, who played volleyball at Wichita State from 2011 until 2013. Her older brother Chad Hinkle played baseball at South Dakota State University and Northern State University.

Mari didn’t feel any pressure growing up behind two siblings who played collegiate sports. Instead, it helped her become the player she is today.

“There wasn’t really any pressure,” Mari said. “It was more of just my sister helping me along the way. Since I started way earlier than she did with volleyball, I had more of an advantage. So, she takes credit for everything that I do.”

Mari attended Rosemount High School, where she was a five-year starter and two-time team captain. Throughout her time, she earned RHS Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player. She also set a new RHS career dig record in 2017 as a junior.

Mari played club ball with Mizuno Lights from 2011-19, where she helped lead her team to a U.S. Girls Junior National Championship, earning a spot on the USGJNC 17 Open All-American team.

After committing to UCLA out of high school, Mari transferred to Iowa ahead of her junior season because she wanted to be closer to home. She played in all 107 sets in 2021, registering 336 digs.

“I decided to come to Iowa because it was closer to home,” Mari said. “It was just a great fit for me. And I just wanted to play and have fun.”

Mari has competed in 37 of 38 sets so far this season. She leads the Big Ten with an average of 4.76 digs per set, jumping from her average of 3.14 in 2021. Mari recorded a career-high 34 digs versus Drake on Sept. 10. 

RELATED: https://dailyiowan.com/2022/09/17/iowa-volleyball-defeats-northern-iowa-prepares-for-big-ten-play/

Mari worked hard in the offseason to improve her defense, and that preparation is paying off on the court. 

“I feel like my defense has improved this year compared to last year in ways where I’m getting stops on defense better,” Mari said. “Going into games, my mindset is just don’t let the ball hit the floor and have a bring-it attitude.” 

Defense is one area Barnes is focusing on improving in his tenure at Iowa. In 2021, the Hawkeyes ranked last in the Big Ten in opponent hitting percentage at .272 and second-to-last in digs with an average of 13.23 per set. 

Barnes emphasized the importance of holding opponents under a .200 hitting efficiency. 

“Holding opponents under .200 is a big deal,” Barnes said. “You have to play defense to win in any league… If you hold opponents under .200 you will be in the top seven [of the Big Ten], and that will make you have a winning season. And when you have a winning season in this league, you’re in the NCAA tournament and hanging a banner.”

This season, the Hawkeyes have held opponents to a hitting efficiency of .198 and rank second in the Big Ten in digs, averaging 15.13 per set. 

Mari has played a critical role in the growth of Iowa’s defense, and the Hawkeyes will continue to count on her as they start Big Ten play.

“Mari just works her tail off,” Barnes said. “She never stops and works hard every point. Mari has been getting better every match.”

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