Aug. 23, 2011
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, July 28, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2011-12 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The murals on the walls in the University of Iowa volleyball facilities contain images of the hardest-working student-athletes in head coach Sharon Dingman's tenure. Senior Megan Eskew is displayed solo inside the UI coach's offices because of a motor that doesn't quit.
"Megan has an amazing work ethic," said Dingman. "Her work rate is as good as any player I've coached and this is my 26th preseason. She's got a work rate that doesn't stop."
That's the way Eskew wants to be known. She aims to be the hardest-working player every time she steps on the court.
"I have a desire to win and compete at every drill, every point," said Eskew. "I strive to be the hardest worker all the time."
It is because of her work ethic that the Schererville, Ind., native was able to make a seamless transition from Marist High School to the collegiate ranks with the Hawkeyes. In her freshman season, she played in all 31 matches, tallying 153 kills and 233 digs -- the fourth and second-highest totals on the team. She was also named MVP of the Hawkeye-Holiday Inn Challenge.
"I don't think it was that big of an adjustment for me," said Eskew. "I've always worked hard, so it was an easy transition for me."
A big adjustment came following her sophomore season. After putting in numerous hours in the practice gym during the offseason, Eskew tore an ACL weeks before the season while working a summer volleyball camp. Eskew used the adversity to her advantage.
"I always tell our injured athletes, you can do one of two things," said Dingman. "You can check out or you can become better through observation, through learning, taking mental notes and watching the team and figuring out how you are going to make the team better when you come back.
"Megan did all those things. She was in the gym as soon as they allowed her to come back. You could just tell she was putting it in her head, and I think that helped her mature tremendously as a player."
Coming off her injury, Eskew enjoyed a breakout junior season, ranking second on the team in digs (212) and third in kills (208). She was also a constant in the Iowa lineup, starting all 29 matches.
"The ACL injury definitely helped me improve as a volleyball player," said Eskew. "It kind of changed my mentality. You don't have very long and you never know what can happen, so you have to play hard every day, every point. I strive to work harder and cherish every moment."
Eskew's work ethic and intellect have allowed her to prosper despite a "big" challenge she faces in collegiate volleyball -- being a 5-fot-9 outside hitter going against players up to nine inches taller on a nightly basis in the Big Ten Conference. Eskew doesn't look at it as a challenge.
"It is really fun for me," said Eskew. "All the time, I think I am taller than I am. I don't feel like I am 5-9 when I am at the net. I try to play higher."
"She's very, very bright and doesn't forget much," said Dingman. "The second round of the Big Tens, she remembers who was blocking her and things that she did that were and were not successful."
Being a fifth-year senior, Eskew knows that the role of team leader falls on her shoulders. She isn't afraid to rock the boat with teammates for the betterment of the team.
"I am a leader that might not be your best friend, but I want to make you better," said Eskew. "I want to get you in the gym playing hard every point."
"When we're competing for practice or competing on a Friday or Saturday night, she's going to put the team's performance above what she's feeling," said Dingman. "It's OK if she hurts someone's feelings as long as she makes them better.
"We've never had a leader like her this summer, and right now our gym is a lot different because of her. She's raised the level of our play herself, just forcing them (her teammates) to be better than they want to be. That's a real quality to have."
If the script plays out as planned, Eskew will be leading the Hawkeyes to the NCAA Tournament in November, and Dingman says the hard-working senior will be the one most responsible for it.
"My goal for Megan is that at the end of the year when we're talking to the team about what it's like to play in the NCAA Tournament, I can just look to them and say, `you have one person to thank whole-heartedly for this experience and that would be Megan Eskew,'" said Dingman. "It goes back to last spring, this summer and hopefully this fall."
Having her mural immortalized in the volleyball office is `pretty cool' for Eskew. Now she wants to go back to work to prove that she belongs.
"This season I have to live up to that," she said. "It is even more motivation. You're on the wall -- show why you're up there."
Eskew graduated with an accounting degree from the Henry B. Tippie College of Business in May, 2011. She is currently working on a master's degree in accounting with an anticipated graduation of May, 2012.