The past year in Indiana athletics gave us a little bit of everything. This summer, the HN staff is recounting the best from the year. Each week, we’re revealing a new game, moment, or memory which stood out to us as worthy of a spot in our #HNTop10. It all culminates in August with our best moment from the year.
Up next in our countdown? A massive Indiana Volleyball win over Michigan in Steve Aird’s first year.
When Steve Aird took over the Indiana volleyball program on Dec. 27, 2017, he emphasized one thing in particular. Regardless of what would happen, he wanted his team to get one percent better every day.
Considering the team, which still played at University Gym, had won just a single conference game the year before, IU athletic director Fred Glass didn’t expect the results to come overnight.
But Indiana’s progress quickly began to show at the beginning of last season.
The team went 9-2 in non-conference play while playing all of its matches on the road. Indiana took down Northwestern 3-1 in the conference opener in front of a raucous crowd. Two days later, Aird’s group took No. 8 Illinois to the brink in a 3-2 defeat in Bloomington.
The Hoosiers were ranked No. 44 in the initial RPI and passed their conference win total from 2017 (two) in just three matches.
“I think,” Aird told the Indianapolis Star in October, “there’s a rightful place for Indiana volleyball to be nationally relevant. Period.”
Even when junior outside hitter Kendall Beerman was lost for the season with an injury, the group continued to grow behind the production of sophomore defensive specialist Bayli Lebo, junior middle blocker Deyshia Lofton and freshman outside hitter Breana Edwards.
IU teetered on the verge of upsetting a top 25 team for the first 12 games of conference play, competing with five ranked opponents before a Halloween night matchup with No. 14 Michigan.
In front of 1,095 fans, Indiana put together a dominant effort to knock off the Wolverines 3-1 for the program’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2016. The night not only marked an important win for Indiana’s NCAA tournament resume, but it was also a visible product of the message that Aird had preached since arriving in Bloomington.
Three weeks prior, IU took Michigan to five sets in Ann Arbor before falling 3-2.
The extra reps and the attention to detail — the one percent better Indiana got every day — was a driving factor in putting together a complete match.
Edwards and Lofton led IU with 16 and 11 kills respectively while Lebo and sophomore outside hitter Kamryn Malloy helped Indiana’s defensive effort.
A look back at the win vs. Michigan.
— Indiana Volleyball (@IndianaVB) November 1, 2018
Aird also wanted IU to become one of the best environments in the Big Ten. While he and his staff waited for Wilkinson Hall to be finished, he encouraged students to show up in costumes, parents to bring their young children, and even welcomed the addition of a drumline in the corner of University Gym.
On Hallow’s Eve, a night dedicated to the “death of U-Gym,” the environment was top-notch. Students packed the stands on a rainy Wednesday night and stormed the court, celebrating the win with Malloy in the middle of the pack.
“It’s great to have a support system like that,” Lofton said after the win. “We appreciate them coming out to every game and giving us the support that we need.”
Indiana didn’t beat another ranked opponent the rest of the season and fell just short of the NCAA tournament with a final record of 16-15.
Still, it was more than Aird might have expected in year one. The win over Michigan was just the first step in a long road to building IU into a national powerhouse.
“You don’t take over a program like this if you want things easy,” Aird said after the 3-1 over Michigan. “As opposed to backing down from it, I want to train right through it as hard as we can.”
Now heading into the 2019 season, the hype around the program is continuing to grow. Wilkinson Hall is opened. IU returns nearly every major contributor and adds Emily Fitzner, an Under Armour First Team All-American from California.
There will be more ranked victories, but Michigan will always be the first of the Steve Aird era. The win proved that Indiana could beat the best, and it was perhaps the strongest indicator that the Indiana volleyball program is undoubtedly headed in a positive direction moving forward.