The very long and weary days of jumping from city to city are finally over for the women of Indiana volleyball.
Coming off three weeks of road tournaments, the Hoosiers are ecstatic to be back on their home turf for the Indiana Invitational this week.
The team will kick off the tournament on Sept. 16 with a match against the Alabama A&M Bulldogs, followed by a morning match against the Chicago State Cougars on Sept. 17, and end the night against the Ole Miss Rebels.
Playing top-20 team Georgia Tech last week at their home gym in Atlanta gave head coach Steve Aird some clarity about the young group he has assembled this season, even though IU lost. Aird notes that while he still has unanswered questions about this group, there’s no doubt that they’re hyper-competitive and not afraid of the moment, at all. Instead of dwelling on the loss, it’s clear that playing successful teams encourages this youthful roster even more.
“I think we’re spending a lot of time in the mud right now,” Aird said. “We’re really trying to drill down on some things that we’re not quite there at yet.”
Their goal now? Growing from that high-pressure from ranked teams and coming back to win.
“That’s how close we are. It’s not miles,” Aird said. “It’s feet.”
Dealing with injuries seems to be another wrinkle in the way for this group. Kari Zumach was out last week and was awfully missed by her team.
“She’s plays the game the right way,” Aird said. “She’s really competitive and very skilled, and we can match her up against people, so having her available for the first few matches this season was really important.”
This week marks the transition from a nonconference season to conference, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Ole Miss will be coming in hot to Bloomington at 8-0, along with Chicago State standing at 6-3. Aird emphasizes that one of the best ways to get better is to gain experience, and playing elite programs gives this group that opportunity.
“I’m starting to get a feel of who’s going to have really good teams and who’s not, and for us, I think we’re still learning,” Aird said. “I wouldn’t be shocked if we hit our stride a little bit later in the year, but that’s just the nature of what we got going on.”
Learning how to be a pro at this level is critical. With the ample amount of underclassmen this season, having the chance to lean on and learn from some of the older kids and new transfers boosts their likelihood to reach success; such as middle blocker, Kaley Rammelsburg, from High Point, who has a hitting percentage of .429, ranking her sixth in the Big Ten.
“You can have all the physical tools, but if you’re not coachable or if you don’t really have a passion for the game and desire to learn, it’s hard to coach,” Aird said. “Kaley is the absolute opposite, she has an unbelievable attitude about work and is an elite athlete.”
Indiana is known for its pride, and women’s volleyball in the Big Ten is a big deal. Since Aird started in Bloomington, the student section has been somewhat of a pet-project of his, and something he’s really proud of. Thursday will be the beginning of the new era Aird strives to create, he wants Wilkinson Hall to be different than other Big Ten venues, and that begins with the students.
“It takes a village, so it starts with a community — the student section — to really get behind it,” Aird said. “There will be some ups and downs as we get going, but I think we have a loyal fan base and the students are going to have a blast.”