IOWA CITY — Iowa has a lot of positive juice coursing through its volleyball program.
Back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in nearly three decades have the Hawkeyes brimming with confidence in the fifth season under Coach Bond Shymansky.
“Back-to-back winning seasons seep into the way that the players think of themselves,” Shymansky said on Friday during preseason media day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “How they carry themselves, how they train, the discipline that they have, but also just the belief they go out there and expect to win when they play.”
After 15 losing seasons in a row from 2001-15, last year’s 18-15 record and the 19-13 mark from two years ago represent the two highest single-season win totals for the program since the 1994 team won 24 matches.
This year’s Hawkeyes are led by 6-foot-3 senior outside hitter Taylor Louis, an Evanston, Ill. native who transferred from Marquette before a 2017 season in which she led Iowa with 386 kills. No active player in the country has more career kills than Louis’ 1,534, a distinction that likely helped land her on the preseason all-conference team in the Big Ten, which sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament last season, including a national champion in Nebraska.
“It’s a really cool thing,” said Louis, the first preseason All-Big Ten honoree for Iowa since 2001. “The support of my teammates, I couldn’t do it without them. I was actually a bit surprised when I got that because I didn’t think that I really deserved it.”
Louis received ample support from fellow senior teammates Reghan Coyle and Molly Kelly, two former Iowa preps that began their Iowa careers as walk-ons and not only worked to earn scholarships, but have cracked the starting lineup and were named team captains.
“Both great Iowa stories,” Shymansky said. “They’ve earned all of those things. They’ve earned the respect of their coaches, of their teammates, people around the department, people around the league. What they do is kind of immeasurable in a low of ways. The intangibles are very real and the intangibles are very Iowa.”
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Coyle, a right side hitter and Lewis Central product, ranked fifth on the team last season with 182 kills and was fourth with 58 blocks. Kelly, a former West Liberty prep, appears to be the front-runner for the libero position after placing third on the team with 45 assists and 15 service aces last season, and fourth in digs (189).
“It’s actually incredible,” Kelly said. “I’ve also been a Hawkeye my whole life, so this has been my dream. Coming into my senior year, it’s just exciting.”
Iowa also returns sophomore setter Brie Orr, who led the Hawkeyes with 1,201 assists last season and was third in both blocks (65) and digs (238).
Out of seven roster additions, three appear set to make an immediate impact. Sophomore outside hitter Griere Hughes transferred to Iowa after recording 325 kills last season at Arizona State. Shymansky raved about the potential of 6-foot-5 freshman setter Courtney Buzzerio — the younger sister of Iowa junior Meghan Buzzerio — and described former Cedar Rapids Jefferson all-state honoree Maddie Slagle as, “a great surprise for us in preseason training and she is earning her way onto the court.”
Slagle, the Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi Division player of the year last season, appears to have carved out a spot on the Iowa backline alongside Kelly and sophomore Halle Johnston.
“I just believe that I can be out there and help contribute to the team,” Slagle said. “I’ve just got to put all my effort towards practices and hopefully get better and make the team better.”
Iowa will host its free Black and Gold Scrimmage at 11 a.m. Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes will begin the season Aug. 25 at the Lipscomb University Volleyball Invitational in Nashville, Tenn.
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