IOWA CITY — It was an unusual offseason for the University of Iowa volleyball team, to say the least.
In May, head coach Bond Shymansky was suspended and later fired after five seasons once the university learned he broke an NCAA rule by “providing an impermissible benefit” to a student-athlete.
At the time of the suspension, Iowa assistant Vicki Brown was named the interim head coach. That announcement was met with resounding approval from the players and as a result, all 17 reported to the team for the fall.
“I believe my role as the recruiting coordinator for the last two years definitely was helpful,” Brown said during media day Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “We were able to maintain all of our incoming freshmen, as well as our recruits further down the road. Just having that relationship that I have been developing with them for the last two years was the key component.”
Brown was the associate head coach and responsible for the defensive end of the court during her two seasons as an Iowa assistant. A two-time all-Big Ten middle blocker at Illinois in her playing days, Brown came to the Hawkeyes after one season leading the indoor and beach volleyball teams at the University of San Francisco.
“She is definitely going to be an amazing head coach,” said junior Brie Orr, a third-year starting setter who ranked eighth in the Big Ten last season with 10.26 assists per set. “I have lots of respect for Vicki and everything she does. So far it has been just an amazing experience. We are all learning so much from her. It is amazing to also have one of the only women’s head coaches in the Big Ten. That is a lot of pride that we have as a team. We really want to do what we can for her because we know she will do all she can for us.”
The Hawkeyes graduated three seniors — right side hitter Reghan Coyle, former West Liberty libero Molly Kelly and two-time all-Big Ten outside hitter Taylor Louis — that provided a ton of leadership and helped the Hawkeyes claim at least 15 wins in each of the last three seasons, a first for the program in nearly 30 years.
“That is what the spring is about,” said 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter Meghan Buzzerio, who accounted for 160 kills and 220 digs last season, "is trying to find those new leaders and just who will take charge and who will run the court and just be that go-to hitter. We have kind of found some of those opportunities available and just starting growing on it now with the freshmen joining in.”
Buzzerio, Orr and senior defensive specialist Emily Bushman are the team captains, and a sizable chunk of their leadership will be directed towards those eight incoming freshmen, which includes Iowa City Regina graduate Jaedynn Evans.
“Our freshman class has been very entertaining in the best way possible,” Brown said. “They are bringing a different element of grit to our program. It is creating competition at just about every position and I believe that is driving our practices and raising our level of play.”
Amiya Jones, a 6-2 sophomore middle blocker, led the Hawkeyes in blocks last season (97) and is also the returner with the most kills (163). Junior Halle Johnston will be the starting libero.
A productive spring also has former Cedar Rapids Jefferson prep Maddie Slagle ready to take another step in her development. Last season, the defensive specialist ranked fifth on the Hawkeyes with 161 digs.
“As a sophomore, there are higher expectations,” Slagle said. “Now the bar is set.”
The Hawkeyes open the season on Aug. 30 at the James Madison Invitational in Harrisburg, Va.
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