The Big Ten is the pinnacle of college volleyball. While this is great for the conference, head coach Steve Aird and his team are about to get underway with conference play, as Indiana sits at the bottom of the pack in the Big Ten standings.
There are currently six teams in the top 25 from the conference, and the Hoosiers are on the outside looking in — trying to figure out how to compete. There are 20 opportunities for the women of Indiana volleyball to play the best teams in the country, and those chances start this weekend. Indiana will battle Michigan State on Friday and end with a match against No. 7 Purdue on Sunday at home.
Indiana’s not at full strength heading into this challenging stretch.
“We’ve been snakebit a little bit with some stuff that’s outside of our control,” Aird said.
More than one challenge has been on the table this preseason. With starting opposite Kari Zumach dealing with an ankle injury, and starting middle Kaley Rammelsberg sore, the set lineup that Aird assembled and trained with was unavailable for the past two weeks. This is a sticky situation to be in right before the arrival of Big Ten play. Having bad luck at a time when a team is hoping not to is part of the adversity Aird and his team have to face here and now.
“Leading when everything is going perfect isn’t leading,” Aird said. “That’s kind of managing and cruising, but when adversity hits, you’ve got to keep everyone fighting and pulling the rope in the same direction.”
Keeping everyone together is a high priority for Indiana, especially right now, after two blowout losses to Chicago State and undefeated Ole Miss last weekend, both dominating the Hoosiers 3-0. The team won’t be able to get over this hump if all the games are blowouts, but that hasn’t been the case all year. Even at Georgia Tech, the Hoosiers played a ranked team on the road and the results were close. What they are doing is working, Aird said, there are just some growing pains they need to get through quickly.
“Teams that believe they can win end up winning,” Aird said. “Teams that are worried about losing, tend to lose — it’s a mindset and it’s earned.”
"What you have to do is be okay being the underdog."
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) September 22, 2021
Indiana is still in the infancy of greatness. With such a young team, Aird’s focus is on developing a strong and stable program rather than winning a national championship. When asked about the infamous IU-Purdue rivalry, Aird emphasized that no such thing exists to him in this moment.
“We’re in a different space than Purdue right now,” Aird said. “Comparison’s the thief of joy.”
There will likely be some contingencies about the lineup, forcing Aird to make some untraditional decisions if necessary going into conference play on Friday. Even so, the availability and opportunity to play top teams continues to fuel this team every week.
“Having all of these ranked teams in the conference means you’ve got opportunities to pick people off all over the place, but you have to be tough enough to do it,” Aird said. “That is where we need to be mentally. The other stuff…you can’t control.”
Considering the countless ebbs and flows this preseason, a lot of newcomers have stepped up to fill in holes when needed. Freshman setter Camyrn Haworth and freshman outside hitter Mady Saris have both proved that they will be headline Hoosier athletes for the next three years.
“Cam Haworth as a freshman setter has come in and given us opportunities in every game,” Aird said. “She came into some matches and brought us back and found ways to win that certainly kept us at .500.” “Mady Saris has been really solid. We’re asking her to do a whole bunch of stuff as a freshman and she’s been up to the challenge.”
Indiana desperately needs to hit its stride soon if the Hoosiers want the chance to compete in a conference full of powerhouse programs. Accepting that they are the David in a conference full of Goliaths is the first step.
“There’s tons of excuses,” Aird said. “But what you have to do is be okay being the underdog.”