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At the team's media day last month, Iowa volleyball coach Bond Shymansky set the goal for the amount of wins this season at 20.

One non-conference game remaining, the Hawkeyes (8-2) are nearly halfway to the mark their new coach established.

Iowa plays Iowa State on Saturday in Ames before beginning Big Ten play Sept. 24 with Nebraska.

Shymansky's club rattled off four straight wins over the weekend to clinch the South Dakota State Challenge, won two out of three at the Arizona State Tournament earlier this month, and won two our of three Aug. 29-30 at the Texas A&M Tournament. The only losses were to Texas A&M and then-No. 17 Arizona State.

"I made the promise to the team back in the spring when I took the job that I wasn't going to schedule any cream puffs in the preseason so we can just pad Ws that meant nothing," Shymansky said. "Our goal was 10 (non-conference wins). So at this point, 9-2 is close to the goal and would make us feel OK. … Developing confidence and developing hunger to be a winning team will make that (20-win) goal a lot more attainable.

"After each match, I ask them to count it down, 'What do you have left now?' And they know the number. It's good for them to be focused and desiring that great target mark."

Senior Alex Lovell leads the Hawkeyes in kills with 121, while freshman Jess Janota and senior Alessandra Dietz have 89 and 80 kills, respectively. Sophomore Alyssa Klostermann leads the team with 212 assists and 12 aces. Freshman Michelle Fugarino has a team-leading 150 digs.

Iowa now moves into its single match-single day portion of the schedule. The Hawkeyes have time to extensively prepare for one opponent, rather than playing as many as four different teams within 48 hours in tournament competition.

"The difference is in the preparation," Lovell said. "Once we start Big Tens, there will be a lot more scouting reports, more time spent in film and learning about tendencies of the other team. In tournament style, the turnaround is really quick. We prepare for the first team for a couple days but then only have a couple hours for the next team when we're there. That's a big difference."

Janota said the Hawkeyes are focused on shoring up several aspects of their play prior to league matches, which has been daunting in previous years, winning just 12 conference matches combined since 2009. Seven Big Ten teams are ranked in the most recent top-25 poll released Monday, and one school was receiving votes.

In other words, the Big Ten is stacked.

"We're trying to just figure out how to balance every section of our game, whether it's back row, attacking, ball control," Janota said. "We're focused on being strong in every category. When it does come down to a tense point-for-point game, we want to be able to produce results at the end."

Shymansky — who was hired from Marquette in January — has installed an expectation to a program that has struggled.

And Lovell and the rest of the Hawkeyes are pleased with the countdown to 20 wins.

"It's good to have," Lovell said. "We need a reference point to go off of, and it's something we all have in the back of our minds. You never want to lose sight of your end goal and what you want to accomplish. The way Bond's been presenting it and making a point of it has been really beneficial for our team."

Reach Matt Cozzi at mcozzi@press-citizen.com or 887-5409.

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