Volleyball notebook | Iowa, conference contenders begin Big Ten play

The Big Ten secured the nation’s top nonconference win percentage at .729.

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Isabella Cervantes

North Florida outside hitter Mahalia White spikes the ball while Iowa outside hitter Addie VanderWeide blocks the ball during a volleyball match between Iowa and North Florida at Xtream Arena in Coralville on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Ospreys 3-0.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter


The Big Ten has been a consistent volleyball powerhouse for years. 

Eight Big Ten teams made it to the NCAA tournament in 2021, with Wisconsin and Nebraska matching up in the championship game. In the national battle of Big Ten teams, the Badgers won, 3-2.

The Big Ten opens its 2022 volleyball conference schedule this Friday. With nine teams in the current top 25, the Big Ten race could come down to the very end.

Here’s a look at Iowa and possible Big Ten contenders heading into conference play.

Iowa

The Hawkeyes sit at 6-5 going into conference play under first-year Hawkeye head coach Jim Barnes. The six nonconference victories match Iowa’s win total from the 2021 season — the Hawkeyes finished 6-24 overall in 2021 under head coach Vicki Brown.

This season, Barnes has put a greater emphasis on consistency. In the first few weeks of play, errors plagued the Hawkeyes, allowing opponents to sneak back and steal sets that Barnes and the Hawkeyes believe they should’ve won. The Hawkeyes made 52 errors over two matches against Iowa State and Drake, resulting in two losses. 

But at the Hawkeye Invitational from Sept. 16-17, the Hawkeyes didn’t drop a set on their way to a 3-0 weekend. The Hawkeyes recorded 37 total errors over three matches, with an extra clean game against Northern Iowa to cap off the weekend. Against UNI, the Hawkeyes had more service aces (10), than they did errors (9). 

Sophomore outside hitter Addie VanderWeide has been an integral part of the team staying disciplined on the court. With nine newcomers on the 2022 squad, the Hawkeyes needed some time to connect with one another. But VanderWeide is optimistic heading into conference play.

“This last weekend, I think, was a really good step in the right direction for our team,” VanderWeide said. “We talked about constantly being aggressive no matter what, but also low error. And I think we really transformed that last weekend. I think that’s something that is going to be big for us starting conference play.”

The Hawkeyes open their Big Ten schedule on Friday at Xtream Arena against the seventh-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. 

Ohio State is 4-4 on the season, with all four losses coming against ranked opponents — including two from the top-ranked Texas Longhorns. Barnes is hoping the Hawkeyes can carry momentum from the Hawkeye Invitational into the matchup against the Buckeyes.

“If you serve [Ohio State] tough and serve the right people, you can get them out of system and score,” Barnes said. “And that’s what we did against UNI … We served really well and were able to keep the edge the whole night. And that’s how we’ll have to perform against Ohio State to have a chance.”

On Sunday, Iowa will face No. 11 Purdue inside Xtream Arena. Purdue is 9-1 on the season, with the lone loss coming from fourth-ranked Louisville.

RELATED: Iowa volleyball defeats Northern Iowa, prepares for Big Ten play

Wisconsin

Reigning national champion Wisconsin is hoping to have another dominant year under head coach Kelly Sheffield.

The sixth-ranked Badgers are 6-2 on the season with close losses against the Florida Gators and Baylor Bears.

Wisconsin is skilled defensively behind freshman libero Gulce Guctekin, fifth-year senior middle blocker Danielle Hart, and junior middle blocker Caroline Crawford. 

Wisconsin and Nebraska are tied for first in the Big Ten with a .127 hitting percentage. Guctekin ranks tenth in the Big Ten in digs, averaging 3.66 per set. Hart has 1.81 blocks per set, second in the nation. Crawford is fifth in the Big Ten with 1.41 blocks per set. 

Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Sarah Franklin leads the Badger offense with 97 kills and 108.5 points. 

Wisconsin will open its conference schedule in Madison on Friday against 11-1 Northwestern.  The Badgers will have ample support inside the UW Field House, as they lead the nation with an average attendance of 9,624 fans per match.

Nebraska

The 2021 national runner-up, Nebraska, is currently ranked second in the nation and finished off nonconference play with an 8-1 record. The Huskers’ one loss came against fifth-ranked Stanford University.

The Huskers have showcased scrappy defense this season, led by sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez. 

Rodriguez averages 4.10 digs per set, putting her at third in the Big Ten. The Huskers rank first in the Big Ten with 16.13 digs per set.

Sophomore outside hitter Whitney Lauenstein leads the Husker offense with 108 points and an average of 3.60 kills per set.

Nebraska will open its conference schedule with two home matches against Michigan State and Ohio State.

Penn State

Penn State is the only remaining undefeated Big Ten team, sitting at 11-0. In 2021, the Nittany Lions got knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the second round versus Pittsburgh. 

This season, Penn State has two victories over ranked Stanford and Oregon.

Junior libero Maddy Bilinovic and junior middle blockers Allie Holland and Taylor Trammell lead the Nittany Lions’ defense.  Bilinovic ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 3.93 digs per set, helping the Penn State defense hold opponents to a .145 hitting efficiency. 

Holland ranks third in the Big Ten in blocks with an average of 1.55 per set. Trammell, with an average of 1.38 blocks per set, is seventh in the conference.  

The Nittany Lion offense is led by outside hitters Zoe Weatherington, Kashauna Williams, and Anjelina Starck. Williams leads Penn State with 2.94 kills per set, while Weatherington isn’t far behind with 2.74. Starck is third on the team, averaging 2.63 kills per set.

Penn State will kick off its conference schedule against 7-5 Indiana and 9-1 Michigan.

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