By Anna Kayser
Learning to finish games strong is a weakness that has persisted through the Iowa volleyball season.
On Oct. 21, Iowa swept Northwestern in Carver-Hawkeye, rebounding from a tough loss the night before.
“Something we’re really proud of, I just think you’re going to get knocked around a little bit in the Big Ten, and it’s about how you get back up and fight, and the fight was real [against Northwestern],” head coach Bond Shymansky said.
Moving on was all about working together as a collective unit to shift the focus.
“I really think we just kind of came together as a team after a really hard loss and focused on our next opponent that we were going to play,” senior middle blocker Jess Janota said. “That was just our ultimate goal, and I think that’s what we did.”
The Hawkeyes led the match against Northwestern with two tight wins, but in the third set, they exploded for a 22-12 lead.
The last 3 points took more focus to win the set. It took Iowa 9 total points to finish out the match, allowing Northwestern to tighten the score, 25-18.
However, going three sets is something to be proud of, and Iowa took away positive thoughts.
“With [Northwestern], we are taking away that we’re better than other teams in the Big Ten, and we need to have the confidence and bring that in other games, too,” freshman setter Brie Orr said.
Despite faltering at the very end, Iowa played better with each set.
“What we saw was we asserted ourselves, and we got better and better. [We had a] more dominant performance as the match went on,” Shymansky said. “Sometimes, it tilts the other way, sometimes you come out hot and it starts to get tight. I just thought great willpower, the true mental toughness, was fantastic for our team.”
A sweep was important coming off the heels of a tight five-set loss on Oct. 20 in Carver.
Unranked Illinois posed a big opportunity for Iowa. A win would have boosted the RPI numbers and bring the Hawkeyes one step closer to their goal of making the NCAA Tournament.
The match was back and forth. Iowa dropped the first and third sets but bounced back to win the second and fourth sets.
The fifth set was the tightest. Despite 10 ties and five lead changes, Iowa had match point at 14-11 and was on the edge of repeating its big win against Illinois from last season.
But the Ilini came back and scored 5-straight points to snatch the victory.
“We have to learn how to finish,” Shymansky said. “The 5-straight points from them at the end and we have 2 match points in there, we just didn’t terminate like we needed to. I feel back for our kids, they’re working so hard, and those are big match moments to get big victories.”
Being in tight matches isn’t rare in the Big Ten, and it’s about learning from the losses in those big moments.
“We’re going to be in a lot of tight matches all throughout Big Ten season; we already have been, and we’re responding pretty well,” Shymansky said.