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‘That’s the nature of the beast’: Indiana volleyball struggles to close out five-setters en route to three-loss weekend

The women of Indiana volleyball woke up Thursday morning standing a sweet 5-1 for the season, but much can change in just two days.

As the squad traveled to its third consecutive road tournament Thursday, the Hoosiers dropped not one, not two, but all three matches at the Georgia Tech Classic, changing that nice-looking 5-1 to a tense 5-4 for the season.

Indiana volleyball started off strong in the first three sets against the Mississippi State Bulldogs Thursday morning, taking a 2-1 lead early. Despite a powerful start, the Hoosiers couldn’t find enough gas in the tank to close out the following two sets, leaving the Bulldogs with a 3-2 five-setter win.

Returning to action Friday morning, Indiana competed against the Oklahoma Sooners. A sense of repetitiveness was starting to be seen in Atlanta, as the Hoosiers started off hot in the first and third set, but ultimately came up short in set two, four, and five, giving away another five-setter win.

The team’s momentum continued to stay the same following the end of the tournament. After two five-set losses, the Hoosiers came out confident for the third match against No. 21 Georgia Tech, winning set one, but failing to prevail in the subsequent three sets, ending the match with a 3-1 Yellow Jacket win.

Back in 2018 when head coach Steve Aird took over, Indiana was 3-13 in five-setters against Power Five teams and 9-14 in total in five-setters. The trend of not being able to close out and win five-setters for the Hoosiers has started to become a reoccurring theme this season.

Indiana specifically had opportunities in set two and four against the Bulldogs to close it out; notably in set two, as it was a hard-fought back-and-forth battle the entire time, with Mississippi winning the extensive set 31-33.

“It’s a competitive thing,” Aird said. “I think we’ve got to the get the point where we can close out games. But on the whole, I think that’s the nature of the beast.”

And the journey to taming that beast is far from over for this team. Being on the road the first three weeks against some exemplary teams presents a different challenge of its own. The Hoosiers didn’t have a lot of time in their home gym — only a couple weeks of preseason — then they rolled out.

“There’s a lot of things we want to work on, we just haven’t had the time and part of that has been the schedule,” Aird said. “We certainly have some kids who can play, we had some great performances tonight, so I think we’re encouraged and we’d like to have a few more wins in the preseason obviously going into the Big Ten.”

The young Hoosiers are still building their confidence going into next week’s first home tournament. Aird explained that they’re still working toward their fullest potential, and an injury to their starting opposite this week, Kari Zumach, put a damper on the team’s spirit.

“She didn’t travel or make the trip,” Aird said. “We’re hoping she gets healthy because she’s a fantastic player and at a different level of some stuff that we’re able to do.”

While the possibility of an injury is always a scary threat for an athlete, this team really stepped up in Zumach’s absence and battled the hardest they ever have, Aird said, despite the losing outcomes.

“I thought this was the most competitive I’ve seen that group since I’ve got them, especially as we were training for the matches tonight,” Aird said. “I think that was a good sign, I think they’re not afraid.”

The weeks of traveling and adjusting to new courts are finally over, as Indiana will return home to Wilkinson Hall for the Indiana Invitational on Sept. 16-17. The squad will face Alabama A&M Thursday night, followed by Chicago State Friday morning, and end the night with a match against Ole Miss.

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