Big Ten 2023, News.

Delaney McSweeney Iowa Feature

Iowa want to turn their 2m-tall middle blocker in more of an offensive weapon this season (Photo: Iowa)

Iowa ranked 13th in the Big Ten women’s volleyball conference last season and their plan to climb the standings and get a better finish in 2023 has a clear starting point.

Second-year head coach Jim Barnes wants his team to be among the strongest in the conference at the middle blocker position and he counts on the improving game of senior Delaney McSweeney to accomplish that.

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Barnes’ gameplan revolves around being dominant in the middle on both sides of the game. This way, he believes, teams will be placed in uncomfortable positions when defending Iowa and will also have more of a one-dimensional offense if their own middles are struggling to score.

“Part of our philosophy is winning the middle, it's part of our system,” the coach said ahead of the start of the season. “And part of that's teaching our setters it's okay to set them as much as you can and set them from 20 feet off the net. Delaney likes to be set, so it was no problem for her to go ahead and get more sets. And she's way better than she was last year, so we're expecting huge things out of Delaney.”

The 2m-tall McSweeney joined Iowa, her home state, ahead of the start of last season, arriving as a transfer from Wake Forest. In her first campaign with the Hawkeyes, she ranked third in kills (195) and second in blocks (46).

It’s easy to see how much of a larger role she has with Iowa this season as not only McSweeney is already at 126 kills and 43 blocks after only two conference matches, but also her kills per set (1.91 to 2.38) and blocks per set (0.45 to 0.81) averages have both skyrocketed from last year’s.

“This season I just want to improve my blocking skills,” McSweeney reflected. “Blocking has been a big thing that I’ve worked on all spring and something that I know I need to improve on. I also want to continue being set by Bailey Ortega (setter). She’s been forcing me the ball a lot and I love it.”

McSweeney produced 19 kills and two blocks in Iowa’s first two conference matches, but her efforts weren’t enough to help the Hawkeyes beat Minnesota and Ohio State at home. The team will be back on the court this week, with road games against Indiana, on Friday, and Illinois, on Saturday. The second duel, set to start at 18:00 local time (23:00 UTC), will be streamed live for VBTV subscribers around the world.

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