Women's volleyball: Iowa seeks sustained success after best season since 2000
IOWA CITY — Finding success is one thing. Sustaining it is another.
The Iowa volleyball team hadn't found success for a long time. Years of losing can cascade upon themselves in the form of culture -- an oft-discussed aspect to team sports. When Bond Shymansky took over at Iowa, he discussed changing that inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Last season the losing stopped — for the first time in 16 seasons.
The Hawkeyes enter 2017-18 coming off a 19-13 record, which was the first winning record for the Hawkeyes since 2000 (15-13) and the most wins for the program since going 24-9 in 1994. For perspective, no one on the team now was alive in 1994.
The only way, Shymansky said, to make sure 2016-17 wasn't an outlier is to sustain success through sustaining that culture.
"We really attend to it every single day," Shymansky said. "What we like about it is there's no end. There's no finish line. There's no, I've done that enough and I'm ready to stop. It is a consistent and constant challenge for our whole team, and that includes me, too, and so as we're kind of growing and learning. We talk about the transformational experience that should be happening inside of our program, and by the way, the end result is you win some volleyball games.
"We love the culture inside of our group because we have a culture that really cares about each other in a very deep and profound way that has trust and respect built into it. That allows them to go out there when they're down and still give."
The Hawkeyes are building success in one of, if not the toughest conferences in the country, featuring the top three ranked teams at the end of last season -- No. 1 Minnesota, No. 2 Nebraska and No. 3 Wisconsin, the former pair of which made the Final Four.
Iowa heads into this season facing the second hardest strength of schedule in the country. The Hawkeyes have 15 teams on their schedule that made the NCAA Tournament last season, including reigning champ Stanford. As hard as the conference slate is, seven of those tournament team opponents will come in non-conference play.
With something that daunting facing them, Shymansky said the fact that this team is "going to be steadier. We're going to be a little bit more stable," is going to be vital -- as is the fact that they're "going to be more physically dynamic."
Shymansky has built a team of those qualities and one he believes can challenge the best conference in the country in large part through transfers.
Each of his four years has seen them, and three more come in this season — Taylor Louis, Kelsey O'Neill and Iowa City High alum Ashley Smith — to join team leaders Annika Olsen, Jess Janota and Reghan Coyle.
Success with a mix of high school and transfer talent has worked in other sports, and if last season is any indication, it's working at Iowa.
If it will sustain, it's because it's part of the culture.
"When you start doing it a lot, then it actually doesn't matter, and so the group that exists here is very friendly and open to transfers because they're transfers, too," Shymanksy said. "Our transfer group so far has been very influential, and when I think about the ones from the past years, they've had great impact.
"They're supposed to come in and do something...So anytime I can bring in a player that I think is going to help us get better, come on. So we've got some great new players that will come in, and I think they'll help us get better."