When Bond Shymansky was hired as the Iowa volleyball coach in January, he set out several long-term goals and expectations that haven't been associated with the Iowa program for many years.
Some of those are coming to fruition this season, and in a big way.
The Hawkeyes (13-12, 5-9 Big Ten) have won four straight Big Ten matches — the most since 1994. Iowa defeated No. 12 Purdue Saturday 3-1, and also rattled off victories against Maryland, Rutgers and Indiana over the last two weeks. A rotation mainly consisting of freshmen Taylin Alm, Michelle Fugarino, Jess Janota and Kaylee Smith, sophomores Lauren Brobst and Alyssa Klostermann, juniors Julianne Blomberg and Mikaela Gunderson, and senior Alessandra Dietz have propelled the team forward.
"I think it's a combination of the freshmen and sophomores gaining experience and our team coming together," Dietz said Monday of Iowa's recent success. "This is the point in our schedule that we kind of looked at. It's good to see our team have a focus on this part of the schedule and just get after it."
Iowa began the season 8-2, but then lost eight in a row. The Hawkeyes shuffled some players around — including the insertion of freshmen Alm, Fugarino, Janota and Smith on a near-full-time basis — and improvements were made.
Smith leads the team in assists with 502, while Fugarino is the leader in digs with 343. Brobst has 238 kills, and Dietz has added 172 kills and 26 aces in her final stanza. The Hawkeyes' five conference wins this season are also the most since 2009.
"We kept saying we were going to a dial up a lineup that can compete to win, and we didn't want to keep doing the same thing over and over again without success. We always say that's the definition of insanity," Shymansky said. "So we've gotten creative. We're thinking outside the box. When we started changing our lineup I said, 'I don't think I was planning on Aug. 8 that we'd be training our setter to pass and one of our passers to hit,' but that's what we're doing. That's what we're winning with."
This recent stretch is a major contrast to 2013 under former coach Sharon Dingman. Iowa went 11-21 overall and 2-18 in the Big Ten last season, losing 11 of its final 12 matches.
The new regime is already reaping the rewards of a program revamp.
"Last season, it was kind of depressing how we ended things," Brobst said. "Getting these wins and playing the way we've been playing is an awesome feeling."
There are six matches remaining on the slate this fall: No. 6 Penn State, No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 17 Ohio State, Northwestern, Maryland and Michigan State.
Although all of those opponents are highly regarded, there could be at least three more wins among those final six, which would be quadruple the win total of last season.
"I see good team harmony on the court, really great work ethic and competitive character on the court. And in a team sport, those kinds of things can overcome somebody on the other side of the net that has more talent," Shymansky said. "No one's accusing us of being a wildly talented team in the Big Ten. These are all of the best athletes, all the time.
"But our team is starting to become talented as a group, together."