By Anna Kayser
The Iowa volleyball team will fight for a spot in the NCAA Tournament on the road in its last four matches of the season.
The Hawkeyes will begin their road trip tonight against Maryland. The Terrapins are 16-12 on the season, 5-11 in the conference.
“Maryland has a really sizable block and a really good serve that they put behind it,” head coach Bond Shymansky said. “I know we’re going to have our hands full. They’re definitely willing to grit and grind, so we’re sure it’s going to be tight sets and a long match.”
The next night, Iowa will have to shift its focus to Ohio State.
The Hawkeyes beat the Buckeyes, 3-1, on Nov. 11 in a tight match, but they know that beating a team twice in the Big Ten is hard.
“I’m sure a week of preparation for them is really helping them get a better rhythm, so we’ll have our work cut out for us with them,” Shymansky said. “They just weren’t quite sharp and together with that new change when they were here last weekend, so we’ll be prepared for a way better fight out of them this Saturday.”
Both Maryland and Ohio State are quality opponents, but the Hawkeyes are confident in their ability to overtake them.
That confidence will be important going into the weekend. Both matches are crucial for Iowa’s goal of making the NCAA Tournament.
“These next four game are huge,” senior libero Annika Olsen said. “I think this is the biggest weekend going into it that we’ve had so far all season, which is exciting for us, because we have so much potential, and if we get these two wins, then it’ll look really good for the postseason.”
Following this weekend, Iowa will face Illinois on Nov. 22 and No. 5 Nebraska on Nov. 25. Iowa lost to both teams earlier this season at home, with the loss against Illinois coming in five tough sets.
For the Hawkeyes to make the tournament, they will have to play their best volleyball for the remainder of the season, which requires them to maintain high intensity throughout every set.
“We’ve had a couple games under our belt where we’ve kept intensity the whole time, and I think we just need to match those matches we’ve had and bring it into these next four,” freshman setter Brie Orr said.
Playing on the road in the Big Ten requires a certain level of intensity to compete with the home crowd, especially in tight matches.
Finishing close sets has been a problem for Iowa all season, but coming off of a tight win against Ohio State has showed the Hawkeyes that they have the ability to come out with the win in those situations.
With these last four matches on the brink of a postseason berth, every set is going to be close. The Hawkeyes plan to take matters into their own hands.
“We believe that one win will put us squarely on the bubble, but we’d like to take it out of fate’s hands, and control our own destiny, and come up with at least two more,” Shymansky said. “[It’s] tall task on the road in the Big Ten, but one I think our team is up for and excited about.”