Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa volleyball has a spring season, and a new home

Hawkeyes open this weekend against Illinois

Iowa volleyball coach Vicki Brown talks to her players during a timeout during the 2019 season. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazet
Iowa volleyball coach Vicki Brown talks to her players during a timeout during the 2019 season. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — In the Big Ten Conference, the University of Iowa volleyball team swims with sharks. And in this spring season, there’s no gentle process of wading into the water.

“Our goal isn’t just to get through the season,” second-year Hawkeyes coach Vicki Brown said. “We want to find a way to win every single weekend.”

It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds. The Big Ten is widely considered the nation’s top conference, with four teams ranked in the top 10 of the AVCA coaches’ poll, led by No. 1 Wisconsin.

The Hawkeyes open their season — finally — at Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Illinois. First serve is 3:30 p.m. Friday, noon Saturday.

“Finally we’re here, counting down the days until we get to compete,” Brown said. “It’s a long time coming.”

Iowa’s last match was about 14 months ago. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 fall season back to this spring.

The Hawkeyes’ schedule consists of 22 matches, all against Big Ten competition, virtually all in a back-to-back Friday/Saturday format.

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After Illinois comes to town this weekend, the Hawkeyes hit the road Jan. 29-30 for a pair of matches at Purdue. On and on it goes, into the first weekend of April.

“Watching film after that first match, and making adjustments, is going to be super critical,” sophomore Kyndra Hansen said.

Iowa was 10-21 last season, finishing 12th in the Big Ten at 4-16.

“We used the fall to make up the time we lost last spring,” Brown said. “We added to our team structure. We slowed things down in the beginning, and were able to rev it up in October.”

Three veterans — leading hitter Griere Hughes (3.18 kills per set), top setter Brie Orr (9.94 assists per set) and leading back-row player Halle Johnston (4.58 digs per set) — opted out of this season.

One of the top returners is versatile junior Courtney Buzzerio, a 6-foot-5 right-side hitter who was second on the team in both kills (2.65) and assists (2.29), and also is a capable back-row player.

Junior middle hitter Hannah Clayton led the Hawkeyes in blocks (0.75 per set), and sophomore Kyndra Hansen posted 1.63 kills per set.

“We’ve pushed our middles to add more things on the block,” Brown said. “Hannah is in her third year as a starter, and we’ve stepped up our expectations with her.”

Iowa figures to be bolstered by a freshman class of five.

“Our new freshmen ... they’re gym rats,” Hansen said. “They’re the first ones in the gym and the last ones out.”

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Much of the buzz around the program surrounds its new home, Xtream Arena in Coralville. The Hawkeyes will debut there Feb. 5-6 against Indiana.

“I think to go from 15,000 seats to 6,000, it definitely creates a better atmosphere for our program, for volleyball in general,” Buzzerio said. “It’s a place to call our own, and that’s very important.”

“We’re super excited,” Clayton said. “It’s going to be a fun atmosphere.”

Comments: jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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