On paper, tonight’s matchup between No. 1 Penn State (20-1, 10-0) and unranked Iowa (10-13, 2-8) looks like a blowout waiting to happen.
The Hawkeyes are in the midst of a four-match losing streak, most recently losing 3-0 on Sunday against Northwestern — the same Wildcats that Penn State soundly defeated, 3-0, earlier this month.
And to pile it on, Penn State boasts an all-time 43-0 record against Iowa.
But when the two teams met earlier this season in September, Penn State endured a tough match and ultimately won 3-1.
Following the match, outside hitter Deja McClendon said the team’s biggest problem is starting off too relaxed. Katie Slay echoed the same statement as recently as Saturday when the Lions defeated Michigan, 3-2.
If Penn State starts out relaxed again, coach Russ Rose and the Lions could find their perfect Big Ten record in jeopardy.
“We (already) had a very tough match with Iowa, and I would expect nothing less of Iowa on Wednesday,” Rose said.
After already acknowledging the target on his team’s back, Rose could expect more of the same from Iowa and their fifth-year coach Sharon Dingman.
“We played well at Penn State,” Dingman told HawkeyeSports.com. “We need to have the right mindset and prepare hard.”
Despite Iowa sitting winless in Big Ten play, Rose said the Hawkeyes are “playing awfully well.”
One item Dingman’s team is sure to address tonight is the exploitation of Penn State’s right-side hitter, Ariel Scott.
Scott, a preseason All-Big Ten selection, has put up team-leading numbers in several categories, including 3.68 kills per set. However, it was a different story in her first go-around with Iowa in 2012.
Against Iowa, Scott tallied just 1.50 kills per set and registered a team-low .083 hitting percentage.
Following Saturday’s win against Michigan, which included a team-high 18 kills from Scott, the junior seemed to have put that performance in the rear view.
“I think we should do what we’ve been doing,” Scott said when asked what the team would be working on in practice leading up tonight’s match. “A lot of serving and blocking.”
Led by Slay, a middle hitter, blocking could indeed be the turning point that tilts the match in Penn State’s favor.
Slay, the Lions’ leading blocker for much of the season, recorded six block assists in the Sept. 22 meeting against Iowa, while the Hawkeyes had six blocks as a team.
Inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, which averages about 900 fans per match, Slay said, “We have to go out on the road and fight because they’re going to.”