OTTUMWA — The wins have begun to mount again. The record is starting to look familiar. So is the level of play.
Nobody said it was going to be easy to make that climb back to being the team that, for a brief period a decade earlier, began to be one of junior college volleyball programs in the nation. Especially when one of the most well-established winners in the country resides within the same region.
Indian Hills may not quite be back to where they were in the mid-2000s, when the Warrior volleyball program went to new heights by qualifying for consecutive NJCAA Division I National Tournaments. Last year’s 30-11 season, however, was as good a year as IHCC volleyball has ever had since those national tourney days.
Add an exciting year of recruiting and some very nifty renovations to the home facilities. Mix it all together and suddenly, the attitude for the first day of practice was one that brought with it a whole new level of excitement to the Tom Arnold Net Center on Friday.
“I am really excited to get things started,” second year head coach Lydnsey Lyon said with a smile on her face after literally running with her team as she ran her first practice of the new season. “We’ve got our Brazilian players here for 10 days, so it’s good to get them into the swing of things. This first day is more about the fundamentals. We’ll get back into this weekend with more drills and get into playing more volleyball together.”
For players like sophomore Peyton Crosser, there was no need for Lyon to provide any motivational speeches on Friday. The first day full of work for the Warrior volleyball team was one Crosser was eager to get going bright and early.
“We’ve got down here at 5 a.m. in the morning and started lifting before coming out here to the court to practice. We’ll start three-a-days starting (today). We’ll do two regular volleyball practices and lift on another one of the sessions,” Crosser said. “We’re going really hard at it this year. Harder than last year, even. I’m excited for it.”
In just 12 days, the Indian Hills volleyball team gets the 2013 season under way with every intention on finishing it in Casper, Wyo., the new home of the Division I NJCAA National Volleyball Tournament. Just from the assembled talent alone, Lyon has every reason to believe this Warrior team is a contender to make that trip right now.
“I think what we’ve got here is going to be just as great and hopefully even better than last year,” Lyon said. “If we all gel together and we all stay healthy, it should be another great year.”
If it wasn’t for national championship contender Iowa Western, the Warriors might be looking at adding another national tournament year to an ongoing streak. The last two seasons of IHCC volleyball has ended one win shy of nationals with the Reivers being the team keeping the Warriors from the elusive district championship victory.
Will the third time be the charm? That’s what the Warriors intend to find out this fall by throwing Iowa Western’s own game right back at the Reivers.
“Iowa Western has a lot of international players and they’ve also been known for having bigger, muscular players,” Crosser said. “They’ve always been known for getting their players into the weight room, which is something we’re really putting more into our preseason work too. We’re working to get stronger arms so we can serve and hit the ball better, stronger legs so we our attack at the net can be even more effective.
“Last year, we didn’t spent as much time in the weight room. This year, I think it’s going to be a huge aspect of our preseason. It’s going to help us so much more.”
For Lyon, however, Iowa Western is not the primary focus for her team heading into this season. Iowa Western is, after all, just one of many tough teams that will be put the Warriors to the test.
“Our focus this year is the national tournament. We don’t want to go in thinking Iowa Western is different than any other team because really, they’re not,” Lyon said. “Anybody can beat anybody on any given night. They (Iowa Western) has a brand new coach and I think they’ll have a great team again, but Iowa Western is not the one to hype up. Iowa Western will be great, but so will we. So will a lot of teams we’ll face this season.”
IHCC’s biggest hurdle this season shouldn’t be a physical one. With returning hitters like Crosser and Shelby Lauterbach along with Brazilians Carla Novaes and Cristaine Vosconcoles, the sophomore core of the Warriors is quite strong up front and will only be strengthened by a host of international incoming players that will bring the level of play up for Indian Hills.
“This year we are stacked with so many back-row players and so many hitters,” Crosser said. “We have three international players, an incoming Puerto Rican recruit, it’s going to be an exciting season. We just have to do a little bit of fine tuning right now. It’s a lot less work because so many players are coming in having played so much volleyball year round.”
According to Lyon, Indian Hills has the talent to play with any of the best teams in the nation. All the Warriors need to do is believe they can beat the best teams in the nation.
“We’re right there with anyone. We just can’t go out and play scared,” Lyon said. “Iowa Western is a perfect example. There is a lot of hype surrounding them being the fourth-ranked team in the nation. That’s great, but it’s going to be Indian Hills turn again sometime soon.”
The Warriors get the volleyball season off to a slightly earlier start. The Warriors head to the suburbs of the Windy City, to play in the three-day South Suburban Tournament in South Holland, Illinois starting on Thursday, Aug. 22.
According to Lyon, the goal of their earlier start is part of a season-long initiative. To get the Warriors better, sooner, as IHCC looks to make itself ready by the end of the year to make that final push to return to the national tournament.
“We’ll be able to test ourselves pretty early on. We’ll test the mettle of our team and see how we hold up physically and mentally to playing in a three-day tournament to start,” Lyon said. “We’ll see all sorts of teams that will test us at different levels, so it’ll be interesting to see if the girls can play at the same high level for three-straight days and not play down to anyone else’s level early on.”
Crosser, for one, can’t wait to get it all started.
“This was our first real practice and I was so excited for it (Friday),” Crosser said. “I think that first tournament, we’ll start to finally get a real feel of how each other plays so we can find out everything from our strengths to our weaknesses about ourselves.
“Having a brand new locker room makes this feel so much more like our spot. Just to have everything redone and displayed here (in the Net Center). We have our own training center here. It’s nice to have your own space. It’s just one more thing we can look forward to about this season.”
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