A trio of tallies in the win column at the Top Dawg Challenge on opening weekend provided a strong start for a youthful Indiana squad.
The Hoosiers kicked off the season against the University of Illinois at Chicago on Friday, winning their opening game in dominant fashion. After a tight first set, the Hoosiers found themselves in front for the rest of the match.
With kills from Mady Saris and Brooke Westbeld, the Hoosiers took down the Flames 25-17 in set two. A strong 11-2 run doused the UIC Flames 25-12 in the final set. Indiana head coach Steve Aird mentioned the way his players grew throughout the match.
“I thought we continued to improve as the match progressed,” Aird said. “We have a good mix of youth and experience and a long way to go, but I am proud of the effort today.”
Up next on the slate was the reigning MAC champion, Bowling Green. The Falcons and Hoosiers went five sets in a true grind-it-out win for the Cream and Crimson.
The tandem of transfers Paula Cerame and Kaley Rammelsberg showed their importance as they set the tone for the Hoosiers from the jump. Cerame led off the match with a pair of aces, and Rammelsberg smashed a pair of kills to capture the first set 25-21. The second frame was highly contested from the two sides, however Westbeld claimed five kills and a block. After a Falcon timeout, Rammelsburg and Zumach slammed three more to close out the set 25-22.
The defending MAC champion was not done, however. After being tied at 15 in set four, the Falcons grinded out a small run and took the set 25-22. The Falcons put on an offensive showcase and took advantage of a reeling Indiana squad in set four, trouncing the Hoosiers 25-12, swinging the momentum and forcing a fifth set.
Despite failing to close out the match in the previous two sets, the Hooisers dug deep and surged for the final set. Senior Kari Zumach stepped up big with a kill and a trio of blocks to help the Hoosiers hang on and win.
Coming off a stamina-draining five-setter, Indiana had in-state opponent Butler waiting on its agenda. The previous game showed, as a drained Hoosiers squad started off sluggish in the first frame, but a crucial pair of attack errors from the Bulldogs allowed the Hoosiers to steal set one 25-22.
They carried the momentum with a strong start, denying Butler’s unwavering attacks for the first points of the set, and after Mady Saris notched another kill, the Hoosiers came out on top 25-18. Freshman Camryn Haworth and sophomore Morgan Geddes manufactured a quartet of points to keep Indiana alive in set three. Geddes finished the Bulldogs off with a defining kill to seize the third win of the season for the Hoosiers.
Aird said he respected the “perseverance and grit [of the team] after going five sets with Bowling Green the match prior.” Endurance will be a key aspect for this young squad, especially against a loaded Big Ten they will face later this season. Indiana will head north to Kalamazoo, Michigan, next weekend for the Discover Kalamazoo Classic to face host school Western Michigan, along with Purdue Fort Wayne and Southeast Missouri State.