Aug. 29, 2010
By MICHELE DANNO
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Competition got heated this weekend at the currently un-air conditioned Carver-Hawkeye Arena as the Hawkeyes perspired their way to winning the annual Hawkeye Challenge, signifying a strong 3-0 start to the 2010 season.
UI head coach Sharon Dingman said her squad entered the weekend expecting to triumph, but it was not an easy ride to first place.
Competing for three straight days in the sweltering August heat made the tournament more intense for the Hawkeyes, who went 3-1 against Alabama on Friday, 3-2 against Southern Illinois on Saturday, and finally, wrapped up the weekend with a 3-0 finish against Green Bay on Sunday.
Dingman said the highlight was Saturday's match where Iowa trailed 2-0, but fought its way to victory in each of the last three sets. After such an unexpected battle, she said her women entered Sunday a bit fatigued, but she was proud they managed to get the job done in three sets.
"We were down a lot this weekend, but I liked how we competed." Dingman said after the Green Bay match. "We learned a lot about our team, and they don't have much give-up in them. They showed a lot of fortitude."
This year's Hawkeye Challenge marked a vast improvement from 2009, where the Hawkeyes went 0-3. Dingman cited this year's improved team chemistry as a possible reason for the early success.
Junior middle blocker Mallory Husz said she agreed that this year's team unity was a major part of their success this weekend, and she is confident the upcoming road trip to St. Louis will only strengthen the squad's bond.
"We're a much closer team this year, both on and off the court," Husz said. "Everything that happened this weekend came from us working as a team, and I think we can take that from Carver to anywhere else on the road."
Husz lead the Hawkeyes in blocks and middle attacks this weekend, earning her the tournament MVP title. Her counterpart, middle blocker Becky Walters, was named to the all-tournament team as well.
Dingman said it is rare for a team to rely so much on the middle for kills, and that setter Paige Stevens did a solid job of feeding the ball to the weekend's strongest attackers.
Since the middles were dominant against this weekend's competition, Dingman said her squad's outside hitters need improvement so they can carry their weight in kills going forward in the season.
The Hawkeye's strong lead over Green Bay allowed some of the non-starters a chance to debut their skills on the court, which Stevens said was important for the team's depth.
Freshman Bethany Yeager also had a chance to make her debut as starting libero this weekend, and earned a spot on the all-tournament team. While Dingman said she could tell Yeager was nervous, she managed to stay composed and continued to improve as the weekend went on.
Yeager attributed her composure to her team's welcoming environment, which she said made her feel a lot more comfortable on the court.
"They integrated the freshmen so well," said Yeager, a antive ofg Brenham, Texas. "They helped us so much in preseason. Plus, it was awesome to play my first games in front of the home crowd."
Hawkeye junior outside hitter Megan Eskew was also named to the all-Hawkeye Challenge team.