Indiana Volleyball’s three set loss to Maryland served as much more than just a regular conference defeat. The loss provided head coach Steve Aird with a symbolic reunion that symbolized the level in which he wants his program to get to. It also came to show what the Hoosiers still need to do to get to that point.
Before coming to Indiana this off-season, Aird coached at Maryland from 2013 to 2017. In that time he took a program that finished 13th in the Atlantic Coast Conference before his arrival to a team with consecutive ranked recruiting classes and an improvement in RPI ranking of 98 spots.
Now in the face of another rebuild at Indiana, Aird aspires to get to the level in which he left Maryland.
“It’s what’s going to happen,” Aird said. “Oh yeah, yeah, put it this way, Maryland’s without now three or four top-50, top-60 recruits that have moved on and they still had kids that were pretty impressive to watch. And a few years from now we’ll be having different conversations and I wouldn’t be here unless I was pretty solid that was happening.”
Even with the loss on Sunday, the Hoosiers still have three more conference wins than they did all of last season. Thanks to the Hoosiers early efforts, the team has already shown signs of progress that have defied Aird’s expectations.
“I know that we’re way ahead of where I thought we would be here despite what happened today,” Aird said.” Today’s a blip, it’s what it is. But you know, I’m going over to tour a $20 million building here in about 30 minutes and we got a pretty big-time commitment from a recruit this morning that’s gonna change the program. You know on the macro, I’m the happiest guy ever. I know I don’t like losing, but at the end of the day we’ve got a lot of positive stuff going on.”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) October 21, 2018
Amidst the symbolism that Maryland provided Indiana in Sunday’s matchup, the match itself also went to show the emotional ties that still surround coach Aird.
“I understand the narratives to it and I’m really happy for them,” Aird said. “It can be mutually exclusive. You can be happy for people and still feel upset that you didn’t get it done.”
Prior to the match, coach Aird exited his office with a different objective than usual. Heading to the court, he first went over to his wife and three kids to receive hugs and encouragement. From there, Aird walked over to his extended family. Aird stepped onto the Maryland side of the court and embraced Maryland head coach Adam Hughes.
It was an embrace that surprised no one, as their relationship truly dates back over a decade.
In 2007 Aird and Hughes we were on staff together at Penn State. In 2010 Aired hired Hughes to work with him in California on a business venture for three years. The two were on the same staff in two final fours and won a title together. Aird then hired Hughes at Maryland as his assistant.
During that time, their relationship tied so deep that the two even served as each other’s best men at their weddings.
Aird and Hughes have been by each other’s side through it all. On Sunday, the two faced a rarity. The two faced an oddity that will seemingly follow them for the foreseeable future.
“Outside of playing darts at bars over the past 15 years and playing shuffle board yeah we compete a lot in a lot of things, but this is the first time in a college setting,” Aird said. “Obviously not the last time. We’re hoping we’re both in our gigs for a long time.”
The oddity of Aird’s ties to Maryland has and will continue to leave him in a unique situation in the Big Ten.
“There’s 12 other programs in the Big Ten I’d rather play,” Aird said. “You know I don’t love playing Penn State, I don’t love playing Maryland. I get them both in the next six days.”
Moving forward, Aird will continue to try to build on the progress that he has already made at Indiana. As that progress continues, Indiana’s emotionally backed matchups with Maryland will develop into a more meaningful gauge year after year.
This year, the Hoosiers learned that Maryland had more of an edge, were longer, and scrappier according to Indiana outside hitter Kamryn Malloy and setter Victoria Brisack.
According to Aird, the Hoosiers also displayed a blatant need for depth.
Thanks to Maryland similar style of play, Indiana will be able to use the Terrapins to see if those needs dissipate in the future.
“The biggest thing tonight was it wasn’t necessarily going to come down to a battle of systems because they were the same,” Brisack said. “It was going to come down to a battle of just will and grit and who’s gonna execute better, which they did. They won that battle…When you play a team that is so very similar to you it’s just going to come down to a couple points here and there. Who can pass just a little bit better? Who can hit just a little bit better? And they executed better than we did.”