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IOWA CITY — During the off-season, Iowa volleyball head coach Bond Shymansky counseled perhaps the most important coaching figure in Iowa athletics history for a discussion on rebuilding and evolving a program.
Shymansky sat down with legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable and took away more than a few vital things — the most of which was “the longer, the longer.”
“He’s like, ‘The longer that the program has not been winning, the longer it will take for it to win and there has to be a certain level of patience.’ Well, that’s good when you’re retired, so I kind of chuckled,” Shymansky said Friday at volleyball Media Day. “(Being able to rebound from adversity) is, you know, it’s a thing for our group that we continue to work on as we’re growing and changing and evolving as a program. It takes a little bit of time, but the time is now.
“We (as coaches) want it right now, and our team wants it right now, and their four years goes by really fast.”
Shymansky is entering his third year at the helm of his alma mater, and while the Hawkeyes haven’t taken the leap to contending in such a deep Big Ten Conference, the signs are there that it’s coming.
Iowa got wins against Iowa State — the first in that rivalry series since 1997 — and No. 25 Texas A&M, which went on to win the SEC last season.
Those might only have been two wins in a 12-21 campaign (2-18 Big Ten), but they’re two kinds of wins the Hawkeyes didn’t see for years before that. Teams and coaching staffs never want to rely on just a pair of wins to motivate their players, but they went a long way in terms of giving the team all-important confidence.
“It was really a launching point and belief for our group that we are capable of competing at the highest level,” Shymansky said. “The Big Ten will test your true mental toughness, so that’s what we really need to make sure that we’re examining, striving for, and kind of holding ourselves accountable for as we get deeper into October, November, and December.
“I know they felt really proud of beating Iowa State last year. We get another shot of doing that in Ames this year. We like that in-state rival component. We need to go out there and do more damage in Big Ten play too.”
The “true mental toughness” part is the thing the coaching staff has pushed hardest with a team that has a few key players returning, but also is young across the board.
Setter Loxley Keala and outside hitter Lauren Brobst are two of the four seniors and led the team statistically. Keala had 1,247 set assists of the team’s 1,426 total over the course of last season, and Brobst led the team with 369 kills, and also was tied for second on the team with 59 blocks. Those two along with Ashley Mariani and Alyssa Klostermann are players Shymansky said would be relied on to lead their continued rebound.
They’re also the players who have most bought into the “true mental toughness” which Shymansky sees as rebounding quickly from adversity and being “unconditionally grateful regardless of circumstances.”
“You have to have a really good attitude while treating others well regardless of circumstances, and giving your very best,” Brobst said. “I think that tests your mental toughness more than a coach pushing you and making you run extra sprints. You have to be grateful for everything that happens to you. It’s a test.”
Iowa has plenty of work to do, to be certain, and Gable’s phrase has stuck with Shymansky because he knows that. Success can be measured in many ways as a coach, but he didn’t make any bones about the obvious fact that wins and losses are all that ultimately matters.
Keala offered an alternative, saying little steps like being able to take a set from No. 1 Nebraska or push No. 3 Minnesota or No. 4 Wisconsin deep into a match are measureables.
Even with that, the players are ready to win. They’ve been through the low moments, and Shymansky believes now is the time to raise those expectations.
“The cut-to-the-chase-point is do you win more? What is your record? I always say I have one of the weirdest jobs. People will say, what do you do? Well, I coach volleyball at Iowa. And they’ll look at me and say, are you any good? Is your team good? What was your record? And it’s such a quick way for people to evaluate whether or not you’re successful,” Shymansky said. “Why it’s ironic to me is I’ve never met a doctor and said, how many patients have you lost? Did you cut straight? I don’t know how to ask those questions, but people understand how to cut to the chase and ask about winning and losing. It is a powerful way to measure it, but that is what I am here to do, win.
“If we take the mantra correctly, win, graduate, do it right. … But then that needs to yield winning. It’s been a really great journey in that way so far. Like I said, I have a certain amount of patience for it, but now it’s year three. It’s time.”
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