Iowa volleyball is rolling.
Year 2 with coach Bond Shymansky at the helm is undoubtedly producing positive results. The team won 11 matches all of 2013. They went 14-17 last year in Shymansky’s first season. Iowa (10-3) has won eight straight matches, its longest streak since 2006. The Hawkeyes’ victory over Iowa State on Sept. 11 was the third in a row in the streak, and the first win over the Cyclones since 1997. The next day, No. 25 Texas A&M went down to the Black and Gold.
“The opening of nonconference was strong for us,” Shymansky said Tuesday. “We clearly made good progress. We knocked down a few giants along the way, and in the process, built a lot of confidence within our program. We’re as ready as we’re going to be to run the gauntlet in the Big Ten and our group is really excited for the challenge.”
The Hawkeyes begin that gauntlet at 7 p.m. Wednesday against fourth-ranked Nebraska (9-1) in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where Shymansky’s club is 7-0 this fall. The two schools meet up Saturday, as well.
Eight teams in the Big Ten are ranked in the most recent American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 poll. Iowa is receiving votes.
“It’s far from over,” setter Loxley Keala said. “We still have to prove ourselves every single time we walk out onto the court and (Wednesday) is no different. Nebraska is coming in here and we’re the underdog. We have to show them what we got.”
Iowa is benefiting from its fast-paced offense, led by Keala anchoring the attack. The junior leads the team in assists and has played every set this season. Sophomore Annika Olsen leads the team in digs. Junior Lauren Brobst is first in kills with 167. Sophomore Jess Janota and senior Mikaela Gunderson add 140 and 103 kills, respectively.
All of this isn’t necessarily surprising to Shymansky.
Success in the midst of one of the nation’s most difficult schedules can vault a team to new territory.
“We knew our team would be capable of making the most of that opportunity,” Shymansky said. “Every step of the way we could see the improvement, both technically and mentally. Most importantly, we see the belief. The buy-in is real. The players are embracing what they can do and they have an expectation to win now. That’s quite a big switch that we’ve flipped somewhere in the last couple of weeks.”
So the switch is flipped, but when do the "lights" stay on for good?
Signs point to sooner rather than later for the Hawkeyes.
“The rebuild is over, but building never stops,” Shymansky said. “Every coach wants to get better and every coach wants the little details as well as the bigger parts to keep improving, and that’s no different for us.
“We will always be building, but we’ve built the right foundation for winning this year.”
Reach Matt Cozzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-887-5409, and follow him on Twitter at @matt_cozzi.