Iowa Hawkeye Volleyball players Jess Janota and Reghan Coyle try to defend the net during a match against the University of Illinois Fighting Illini on Friday, Oct. 19, 2017. The Illini defeated the Hawkeyes three sets to two. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa volleyball has tools to reach NCAA Tournament goal

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Going into the last games of the season, Iowa will have to bring together all of their strengths to gain their NCAA Tournament goal.

By Anna Kayser

anna-kayser@uiowa.edu

The Iowa volleyball team will try to run with its success against Ohio State to record wins in the last four games of the season with hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid.

Despite falling behind by a wide margin in the second set against the Buckeyes on Nov. 11, the final home match for the Hawkeyes brought a lot to be proud of.

The main thing Iowa has been working on for the entire season has been finishing out the tight matches, and against Ohio State, it finally paid off. The Hawkeyes won the match, 3-1, with the final two sets finishing 25-22 and 25-23.

“That’s obviously been a work in progress throughout the season, and I think we’ve learned from previous experiences,” senior middle blocker Jess Janota said. “Now, it’s finally coming together, and we are being able to push through in those moments.”

Another big key to the Hawkeyes’ success has been a big block coming in the last month. They out-blocked one of the best blocking teams in the country, Michigan State, 10-5 on Oct. 28.

Bringing all its recent strengths together is going to be important for Iowa going into the last four matches of the season. It will have to play at the highest level to reach the season goal of receiving an NCAA Tournament bid. The win against Ohio State — and on Senior Night — was just the beginning of that.

“That was a huge win for us — a must win for us — last match at home,” head coach Bond Shymansky said. “First time since I’ve been here for four seasons that we’ve gotten a win on Senior Night, and that may sound like something a little bit odd, but it’s really important to us.”

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With the big win against Ohio State, the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament might not be far off.

“We feel like we’re one or two wins away right now from an NCAA Tournament berth, and that’s really a big marquee for our program,” Shymanksy said.

Even though the focus now is on finishing out the season strong, it’s a bittersweet time for the seniors following their final match in Carver-Hawkeye.

“Now, I’ll be able to hold this memory forever. We got a win the last time playing on the home court, we had the fans there to support us, so it really meant a lot,” senior middle blocker Kelsey O’Neill said.

The seniors bring a lot to the team, both on the court and off the court, which will be important in the last week of the season.

Janota and O’Neill both had 11 kills against Ohio State, and senior libero Annika Olsen had 20 digs. She continues to be what Shymansky calls the Hawkeyes’ “anchor” in the back row.

Right side hitter Taylin Alm and outside hitter Kasey Reuter have provided positive push coming off the bench, especially when Iowa needs give its opponents a different look.

Using those strengths against Ohio State moved the Hawkeyes to a win, and they’ll have to continue to play with a high level of intensity throughout the last matches. That comes with focusing on their side of the net instead of playing to their opponent’s advantages.

“I think we just really focused on ourselves, and we especially had something to play for with us as seniors, and the whole team bought into that,” Janota said. “We really wanted to get back to what we do best, and that’s what we did.“

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