Volleyball notebook | Iowa, Big Ten national contenders close out regular season

Six Big Ten squads earned berths to the NCAA Tournament, and the Hawkeyes were not one of them.


Isabella Cervantes

Iowa labero Mari Hinkle bumps the ball during a volleyball match between Iowa and Indiana at Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa, on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. Hinkle had 15 digs. The Hawkeyes defeated Hoosiers 3-2.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

The 2022-23 NCAA volleyball regular season has come to a close, and six Big Ten squads — Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, and Wisconsin — were selected to compete in the NCAA tournament beginning on Thursday.

The Big Ten has now sent at least six member schools to the NCAA tournament in 24 of the past 25 seasons.

Here’s a look at how the Hawkeyes and other Big Ten national contenders finished the regular season. 

Iowa (10-21, 4-16)

Iowa closed out the regular season on a two-match win streak with victories against Michigan and Michigan State. Under first-year head coach Jim Barnes, the Hawkeyes exceeded their win total of six from last season.

“Our team never quit,” Barnes said in a statement. “We showed great character, fighting until the end. We are very grateful for our seniors Edina, Madi, Mari and Amiya. We sent them out with back-to-back wins over the state of Michigan.”

Fifth-year senior middle hitter Amiya Jones led Iowa with 280 kills, followed by sophomore outside hitter Michelle Urquhart with 270. Jones also led the Hawkeyes with 40 service aces and ranks seventh in the conference with 0.36 service aces per set.

Iowa’s defense, which has consistently ranked in the bottom of the Big Ten, showed signs of improvement this season. The Hawkeyes jumped from 13th to sixth in the conference with 13.72 digs per set. Senior libero Mari Hinkle ended her Iowa career ranked ninth in the Big Ten with 4.01 digs per set, despite missing the last two matches due to injury.

Freshman outside hitter Nia Washington made visible strides throughout the season and will be an asset for Iowa in the future. In 29 sets, Washington tallied 36 kills — 16 of which came in her career-high night against Michigan on Nov. 23.

RELATED: Iowa volleyball comes from behind to defeat Michigan in five-set thriller 

Wisconsin (25-3, 19-1) 

The reigning national champion and second-ranked Badgers won their fourth consecutive conference championship and ended the regular season on an 18-match win streak.  Penn State is the only other program in conference history to capture four consecutive Big Ten volleyball championships.

The Badgers ended the regular season leading the conference with a .266 hitting efficiency. 

Middle blocker Danielle Hart ranks second in the Big Ten with a .443 efficiency, while outside hitter Sarah Franklin, a transfer from Michigan State, leads the Badgers with 3.93 kills per set. 

Freshman libero Gülce Güçtekin collected Big Ten Defensive Player and Co-Freshman of the Week honors last week after recording 5.38 digs per set and a .949 percentage on serve receive in Wisconsin’s conference-title-clinching wins against Nebraska and Ohio State. Güçtekin ranks 10th in the Big Ten with 3.92 digs per set.

Wisconsin’s blocking game has been elite this season. The Badgers rank second in the Big Ten with 3.02 blocks per set. Hart and middle blocker Caroline Crawford, who both rank inside the top ten in the conference with 1.53 and 1.38 blocks per set, respectively, lead the Badgers’ blocking effort.

Wisconsin earned the No. 1 seed in its quadrant, putting the Badgers in position to host until the Final Four in their 10th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

The Badgers do not have an easy path to their first back-to-back titles in program history, however, as they may potentially match up with one of their three losses on the season — the third-seeded Florida Gators — if both squads make it to regionals. Florida won, 3-2, on Sep. 16 at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

Nebraska (24-5, 16-4)

The No. 7 Cornhuskers ended the regular season by losing three of their last five matches — 3-1 to then-No. 6 Ohio State, 3-1 to then- No. 3 Wisconsin, and 3-0 to then-No. 9 Minnesota.

Nebraska’s defense leads the Big Ten in opponent hitting percentage, opponent kills, and opponent service aces. 

Libero Lexi Rodriguez ranks fourth in the conference with 4.26 digs per set, aiding the ‘Huskers to second place in the conference with 15.63 digs per set.   

Senior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord leads the ‘Huskers with 150 blocks and ranks second in the Big Ten with 1.55 blocks per set.

Husker defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles suffered a knee injury in practice last week and will miss the remainder of the season. This is a blow for Nebraska, as Knuckles had started 16 of 27 matches before getting injured, registering 1.97 digs per set.

Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik, a West Des Moines, Iowa, native, leads the Nebraska offense with 3.24 kills per set. 

Nebraska earned a No. 2 seed in its NCAA tournament quadrant and will face Delaware State on Thursday at the Devaney Center in Lincoln. The Huskers are in position to have home court advantage through the first and second rounds. 

Nebraska has faced two other teams within their quadrant, beating Purdue twice in straight sets and Loyola Marymount once in straight sets. 

Minnesota (20-8, 15-5)

The eighth-ranked Gophers ended the regular season on a tear, winning two top 10 road matchups against then-No. 8 Ohio State and then-No. 5 Nebraska, 3-1, and 3-0, respectively. 

Sophomore outside hitter Taylor Landfair ranks first in the Big Ten with 4.43 kills per set and 4.99 points per set. Landfair earned her first career American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Week honor last week. In Minnesota’s two top 10 road victories, Landfair averaged 5.71 kills and 6.36 points per set.

Setter Melani Shaffmaster’s consistency has been key on the Gopher offense. Shaffmaster ranks second in the Big Ten with 10.48 assists per set. 

Shaffmaster earned Big Ten Setter of the Week last week as she tallied 12.43 assists, 0.71 blocks, and 0.57 kills per set during Minnesota’s two top 10 road wins. Shaffmaster leads the conference with 14 double-doubles on the season.

Head coach Hugh McCutcheon announced on Oct. 25 that he would step into the newly created role of assistant athletics director and sport development coach on Jan. 1, 2023. The 2015 and 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year has led the Gophers to seven straight NCAA Sweet 16-or-better tournament finishes. 

The Gophers earned a two seed in their 22nd trip to the NCAA tournament in the last 23 years. Minnesota is in position to host at Maturi Pavilion in Minneapolis through the first two rounds and will face Southeastern Louisiana on Thursday.

Minnesota has battled two teams in their bracket — Texas and Ohio State. The Gophers lost to the Longhorns, 3-1, on Aug. 31 and fell to the Buckeyes, 3-0, on Oct. 12.