Bond Shymansky's first season as Iowa volleyball coach was a success.
After multiple years of futility, Iowa went 14-17 (6-14 Big Ten) in 2014, winning four Big Ten matches in a row at one stage for the first time since 1994. The six conference victories were the most since 2008. Prior to Shymansky's hiring, the program recorded 12 conference wins combined from 2009-13.
Those days are over.
"It was an immediate turnaround," junior hitter Lauren Brobst said at the team's media day Friday. "Bond came in and he made it clear that we were going to succeed in the Big Ten, and that's exactly what we did."
"It was a really good year just to get things rolling and get a culture change," senior blocker Mikaela Gunderson added. "This year I think I've seen an even bigger difference. The way we're running the offense and his system, everything is coming together and really clicking. You can definitely see the change."
That change is not only developing in general, but is also apparent on the roster this fall.
The Hawkeyes return seven players from last season. Eight newcomers join the team, four of them freshmen. The four transfers are highlighted by Loxley Keala, who left Missouri and will step in as the starting setter immediately. Ashley Mariani (Tennessee), Taylr McNeil (South Carolina) and Annika Olsen (Georgia Tech) also join the Black and Gold following previous collegiate stops.
Despite the new outnumbering the old, there are no issues as the team progresses together.
"We have a lot of new players, but we have a lot of great people too," Shymansky said. "That law of magnetism has applied well inside our program. Great players are drawn to each other."
Brobst and Jess Janota were first and second on the team with 286 and 226 kills, respectively, in 2014 and will be the main contributors on offense again for Shymansky's club. Gunderson – first in blocks – and Alyssa Klostermann – second in assists – also are back.
Keala, who initially emailed Shymasnky late last fall about possibly transferring to Iowa, led in assists and played in every set for Missouri last year. She will run the show offensively for the Hawkeyes.
"That's something I was looking for in a program," Keala said. "I want to run the offense and kind of quarterback the team. They call the plays for me sometimes, but in transition they allow me to create the offense."
Iowa opens the 2015 campaign next weekend in the Northern Illinois Tournament in DeKalb, Ill. Then, the team travels to Hawaii Sept. 5-6 before returning to Iowa City for back-to-back weekend tournaments in mid-September. From there, the Big Ten slate, which is the most difficult in the nation.
Six Big Ten teams are ranked in the preseason top 25 with three other schools receiving votes.
If Iowa is going to continue its resurgence this season, it will undoubtedly be impressive.
"Our preseason strength of schedule is ranked 15th in the country," Shymansky said. "That's something this program maybe hasn't faced or set up before, but we're going to do it and we're going to get out there and push ourselves to be challenged all year long, not just when we get into conference play and get kicked around the court a little bit.
"It's time we start doing some kicking."
Reach Matt Cozzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-887-5409, and follow him on Twitter at @matt_cozzi.