Team Iowa Ice falls to Unilever of Brazil

Oct. 09, 2013, 4:02 p.m. (ET)

ZURICH – Team Iowa Ice dropped the first match of the 2013 FIVB Women’s Club World Championships, falling to the South American club champion, Unilever of Brazil, in straight sets 25-14, 25-16, 25-22.

Team Iowa Ice, winner of the 2013 Premier Volleyball League title, will meet Vakifbank Istanbul of Turkey tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. to finish up pool play. The top two teams from each pool will move on to the semifinals on Oct. 12 with the championship finals on Oct. 13.

“What Brazil brought to the court is what we expected,” said Iowa Ice head coach Janelle Hester. “A lot of big swings, big serving and great big blocks on defense with their height; they’re a very well coached team. I credit them on their offense and their defense.”

Unilever is one of the most storied club names in Brazilian volleyball history, having won eight Supergila titles and nine Rio de Janeiro Championships since 1997.

Tonight, the experienced Unilever squad was led by perhaps a couple future stars of the 2016 Olympic Games, 20-year-old outside hitter and National Team member Gabi Guimaraes, who had 10 successful attacks, six in the first set and 23-year-old Juciely Barreto, who converted a match-best 11 points on 14 attacks.

Unilever were efficient converting 47 attacks on 81 attempts, while Team Iowa Ice scored 23 times on 74 attacks.

Unilever jumped on the American squad in the first set with a variety of attacks and blocks, using their superior size advantage at the net, with a 6-1 start and then expanded that lead to 16-5 at the second technical timeout, eventually taking the set 25-14.

Much of the Unilever leverage came from four players all 6’2” or taller, including Canadian National Team member Sarah Pavan, the 6’5” left-handed hitter and blocker, who accounted for 11 points, eight attacks and three blocks.

Head Coach Janelle Hester started the match with Carly Jenson (Omaha, Neb), Justine Landi (Coral Springs, Fla.), Natalie Mullikin-Smith (Lebanon, Ind.), Kaylee Manns (Topeka, Kan.), Brittany Brimmage East St. Louis, Ill.) and Megan Schipper (Aplington, Iowa) with libero Devon Jensen (Underwood, Iowa).

And that’s the lineup that competed throughout the three sets. The second set saw some improvement for the U.S. squad, who seemed to start to jell, get into the flow of the game and hit their defensive assignments with more consistency, picking up digs. Unilever reacted with a number of dinks and dunks over outstretched hands of American blockers. Iowa made a couple nice little runs with Landi serving, spurred by a Brimmage running attack and block, in the middle and end of the set, but Unilever closed it out 25-16 with a massive kill by the Serbian, followed by a set-point dink shot.

The Ice began to freeze their sun-soaked opponents in the third set, aggressively chasing down balls, digging the tough serves, blocking and, finally, starting to get some breaks. Iowa trailed at both technical timeouts 8-6 and 16-11, but clearly this set was much more competitive. Iowa battled from the second TTO to trail 15-16. That run began with a Jenson block followed by a Jenson ace, which lead to the always pleasing setter dump by Manns.

The team fought, but just could not get the set tied, getting within one point on nine occasions, including 23-22, but the Brazilian squad prevailed 25-22.

“On a team perspective, we did start to turn it around towards the end,” said Hester. “We blocked, we did the little things that we needed to do to stay in it. I feel like that was a good way to end a match against a tough, tough team. There really can’t be any excuses you just need to step on the court and play no matter who is across the net, experienced or not, and just focus on what you can control.”

Team captain Schipper had eight spikes on 21 attempts, leading the Iowa Ice squad in scoring. Brimmage had six kills with two blocks. Mullikin-Smith had four kills on eight attempts in the middle.

“I truly believe that tomorrow when we play if we’re in that position, we just have to have those individuals step up and finish,” said Hester.