IOWA CITY, Iowa – Contrary to what you might think, Bond Shymansky isn’t trying to rebuild the Iowa volleyball program.
It’s impossible to rebuild something that hasn’t stood on solid ground for any significant period of time.
Shymansky is trying to do what no other volleyball coach has done before at Iowa. He’s trying to turn a traditional Big Ten bottom feeder into a conference power.
He’s trying to make volleyball relevant at the University of Iowa.
He’s trying to make the Iowa the program the top choice for the best recruits from in state.
And he’s trying to match, and then hopefully surpass, the success that both Iowa State and Northern Iowa have had in volleyball.
“This is the Hawkeye state, so we need to be the best program in the state, period,” Shymansky said Friday at the team’s annual media day event. “And I know that every sport here feels that way; that when Division I athletes from inside of our borders have an opportunity to play on scholarship, that this is where they dream and desire to come.
“And we have to work to establish and achieve that. We have to earn that right with them and inside our volleyball community just like with any sport here has to do that. But we feel like we’re making great strides for that.”
Optimism surrounds the program as Shymansky enters his second season as head coach. The Iowa City native and West High graduate accomplished enough in his first season in terms of winning to inspire hope.
Iowa still finished with a losing record at 14-17 overall and 6-14 in the Big Ten last season, but those records showed significant progress. It was the most wins for Iowa since 2008. The team also won four consecutive Big Ten matches, marking the longest winning streak since 1994 when the Hawkeyes won eight consecutive matches.
Iowa also defeated its first ranked opponent since 2012 with a 3-1 victory over No. 12 Purdue last season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“That’s a huge key,” said junior Alyssa Klostermann. “We broke some records, actually, last year that hadn’t been broken in like eight, nine or ten years at Iowa.
“We didn’t have a winning season, and Bond talked to us saying that was his first none-winning season. But that’s not an excuse or anything. We made strides and we put our name out there. And now we’re the team that people are like, watch out for.”
Shymansky replaced Sharon Dingman as head coach in late January 2014. Dingman had spent six seasons trying to breathe life into the program, but the results were disastrous as Iowa finished 66-125 overall and 18-102 in the Big Ten under her watch. Dingman lost 73 of her final 80 Big Ten matches.
Iowa hasn’t competed in the NCAA Tournament since 1994, which was a year before Shymansky graduated from the University of Iowa.
The first thing that had to change under Shymansky was the culture. Shymansky said Friday that process still is ongoing, but Klostermann has seen enough positive change to know that the program is finally moving in the right direction.
“Since he’s been here, he’s put believe and achieve in our mind, and that’s fantastic because ultimately if you believe it, your will achieve it,” said Klostermann, a defensive specialist, who graduated from Dubuque Wahlert. “And we’ve seen it in these past two weeks of preseason, just believing that we are the team this year that will make the NCAA Tournament and that we are a better team than what we were last year.
“Bond has completely changed the culture. And that’s exactly what we needed for this program.”
Shymansky also has made Iowa an attractive option for players who are looking to transfer. Iowa’s 2015 roster has eight newcomers, including four transfers with collegiate experience.
“I just love the way he coaches and I knew he was going to do something special at Iowa,” said junior setter Loxley Keala, who transferred to Iowa before the start of 2015 spring semester after playing her freshman and sophomore seasons at Missouri.
Keala, who is from Kaneohe, Hawaii, was familiar with Shymansky from the recruiting process in high school. She considered attending Marquette, which is where Shymansky coached before coming to Iowa.
"I’ve known Bond since probably I was in the ninth grade because I was looking at Marquette," Keala said. "I just loved the way he coached. And I knew he was going to do something great at Iowa. Already, he is turning the program around."
Keala appeared in all 69 matches during her two seasons at Missouri. She led the team in assists as a sophomore and was second in service aces. She also helped Missouri finish 35-1 overall and 18-0 in the Southeastern Conference as a freshman in 2013.
“Coming to Iowa, I’m so excited about playing in the Big Ten, the best conference in the country and just to play someone great every single night,” Keala said. “One thing I’m looking forward to is stepping up to the plate every single time.
“The SEC is a really strong conference as well. But I just think looking at the Big Ten, every single night you have to be your best.”
Joining Keala as transfers on this year’s team are junior middle blocker Ashley Mariani, who played her freshman and sophomore seasons at Tennessee; sophomore outside hitter Taylr McNeil, who played her freshman season at South Carolina; and sophomore defensive specialist Annika Olsen, who played her freshman season at Wake Forest.
“All four transfers have found playing time so far in our starting lineup,” Shymansky said. “But the starting lineup keeps shifting. That’s the beauty of preseason. We get to test and tinker with a lot of different things to figure out not only who individually will perform, but also where is the chemistry at with those six that are standing out on the court at any given time?
The four transfers will join with four freshmen and seven returning letter-winners, including four starters, to form Iowa’s 2015 roster. The four returning starters are Klostermann, junior outside hitter Lauren Brobst, sophomore middle blocker Jess Janota and senior middle blocker Mikaela Gunderson.
The players should have plenty of motivation after the Big Ten coaches picked Iowa to finish 11th in the conference this season.
Iowa will play its Black and Gold scrimmage on Saturday before opening the regular season against South Dakota State on Aug. 29 in the first day of the Northern Illinois Tournament in DeKalb, Ill. Iowa’s first home match will be against Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Sept. 11 followed by Iowa State on the same day.
“Part of the next thing for us is the culture and the team, but the other part of the next thing is how do we get more Hawkeye fans to embrace what we’re all about and what we’re doing?” Shymansky said. “When we win, we know they’ll show up. But we need their support to come and help us win.”