It’s an understatement to say the conference season for the Hoosiers has been tough, but the remaining schedule could spell disaster.
So far, the Hoosiers have been held winless against Big Ten Conference teams this season, and IU is currently in a seven-game losing streak. Of the 25 sets played in conference play so far, the Hoosiers have won just four. However, those four set wins have come in the last three games played.
IU still has to play five of the six ranked Big Ten teams, some more than once.
The Hoosiers will start that challenge Friday night in Madison, Wisconsin, against the No. 11 Badgers.
Wisconsin is 12-4 on the season but just 3-4 in conference play. Some notable wins for the Badgers have come against then-No. 20 Michigan, 3-0, and then-No. 4 Nebraska, 3-1.
The only team IU and Wisconsin have both played is Iowa. That was incidentally IU's previous match, in which they lost in four sets at home. The Badgers, on the other hand, defeated the Hawkeyes, 3-0, on Sept. 29 in Iowa City.
IU Coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan said she thought her team’s performance was very on and off in the 3-1 loss to Iowa. The team knows that inconsistency against Wisconsin could make for a very short match.
Like IU, Wisconsin has some talented middle blockers. Junior Tianna Williams and freshman Dana Rettke have combined for 306 kills this season. Their presence at the net is troublesome, too, as they have combined for 144 blocks.
The Hoosiers might still be without sophomore outside hitter Kendall Beerman, who leads the team in kills. That may call for sophomore middle blockers Deyshia Lofton and Hayden Huybers to provide sparks offensively for the Hoosiers, which they have done consistently the last three matches.
“Their resiliency and their attitude has been great,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “I think they were getting frustrated early on in Big Ten season, but have really gotten rid of that. They are finding ways to score, and I’m really proud of them.”
It will be a challenge to find ways to score against the stacked block of Williams and Rettke, but Lofton believes their improved connections with sophomore setter Victoria Brisack will help.
In terms of winning the match, aggression is key for the Hoosiers.
“We just have to be the aggressors,” Lofton said. “We can’t wait for teams to come to us because it’s never going to happen.”
First serve will be at 8 p.m. as IU looks to upset the Badgers and pick up the first conference win of the season.
“I think we have to go out and just fight,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “We have a game plan for them, but in the end, we are going to have to show up and really battle. That’s what I’m looking for right now.”