After earning its first win of the season last weekend against Rutgers, IU volleyball is looking to carry that momentum into its second away match in a row against 0-4 Iowa.
“They compete really, really hard,” IU head coach Steve Aird said. “We’re younger than they are at various positions and they’ve got some kids who are really fantastic athletes and players, and they’re well coached.”
The Hoosiers have a 40-37 record against the Hawkeyes stretching back to 1976, but lost both of their most recent matches against the Hawkeyes in 2019.
Iowa is ranked lowest in the Big Ten in hitting percentage, kills per set, assists per set and service aces. The Hawkeyes also have the largest opponent hitting percentage at .285 and have given up 192 kills on the season, averaging 13 or 14 per set.
Iowa recorded a season-low of two blocks in three matches against Purdue last weekend. Their season average is 2.14 blocks per set, ranking above the Hoosiers who average 2.00 per set.
Iowa has also given up the most opponent blocks in the conference at 43. The Hawkeyes face a tough test in freshman middle blocker Leyla Blackwell leading IU with 17 total blocks. This places her fifth overall in the Big Ten.
“Having the support from our team who have gone through this and having them help us and figure it out on the court is making the transition a lot easier,” Blackwell said during media availability on Wednesday.
Coming off its match against Rutgers, IU posted impressive statistics, putting the team at seventh in the conference for kills at 155 and digs at 174. However, the Hoosierss are tenth in hitting percentage with only .139. Iowa, at 12th, has .115.
After the team has been playing for a few weeks, Aird and his staff have been working hard to pinpoint and improve fundamental skills during practices.
“Most of the game is serving and passing. If we serve well and pass well, I think we’re in a pretty good spot. That’s been a big focus,” Aird said. “Team defense is a really big deal.”
Iowa sophomore middle blocker Blythe Rients is someone for Aird and his team to keep an eye on this weekend thanks to her team leading .321 hitting percentage for the season.
But Rients only has 25 kills this season, compared to IU’s junior Breana Edwards and freshman Tommi Stockham who have 46 and 45, respectively. Iowa junior outside hitter Courtney Buzzerio leads her team with 36 kills. Edwards posted 32 kills against Rutgers last weekend.
“We have a whole bunch of kids with really good arms, so if we control the ball we can take a full swing in a variety of positions,” Aird said.
Some of the biggest struggles for the Hoosiers have involved serves and service reception, with 27 service reception errors in the past two weekends along with their decrease in energy in the middle of sets. They have repeatedly allowed their opponents to go on unanswered scoring runs, and in one set against Rutgers even failed to put up 10 points.
Many of the players had very little time to adapt to the Big Ten play before the season started, Aird said. For the freshmen, there was no final club season, very little consistency in fall training and only about two weeks of practice before the season opener at the end of January.
“I think every player has their own teacup and the size of the cup varies,“Aird said. “If you have a brand new freshman the teacup is small, and you’re pouring information into it and at some point it’s spilling all over the sides and there’s no return. I’m looking for a few Guinness steins by the time they’re done.”