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After 1-11 conference start, volleyball has 'nothing to lose' mentality



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Freshman outside hitter Kamryn Mallory earns a kill against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Oct. 11. IU plays Iowa and No. 7 Nebraska this weekend.  Steven Lin Buy Photos

Practice Tuesday was no different than any other practice for the IU volleyball team. It showed the same intensity and ran the same drills to prepare the team for its upcoming matches against Iowa and Nebraska. 

Except Tuesday was Halloween, so the coaching staff took a pit stop at Party City to give the team a surprise.

They brought back an old lady mask, a monkey mask, a cat mask, a poop emoji hat and a Day of the Dead mask and hat.

After practice, most of the underclassmen were interviewed by IU Athletics and talked about topics like their favorite and least favorite Halloween candy, their favorite costume as a kid and what they were dressing up as this year.

“You can’t lose sight of the fact that these are kids, and it’s Halloween,” IU Coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan said. “So, we just showed up to practice with costumes, and it was pretty fun.”

A little fun goes a long way, especially after the long start to Big Ten season the team has endured, starting just 1-11.

Along with the fun, Dunbar-Kruzan and sophomore setter Victoria Brisack also spoke about what they fear the most both on and off the court. 

For Dunbar-Kruzan, it's killers in movies, such as Jason from "Friday the 13th." Brisack said she has a fear of heights. 

On the court, Dunbar-Kruzan said injuries scare her, and luckily the injuries have been minimal and not serious so far for IU this season. Brisack said she fears letting her teammates down the most. But she has tallied 798 assists this season, and her teammates would argue that she has yet to let them down. 

The Hoosiers will travel to Iowa on Friday night to play a team they lost to once already in 2017, 3-1 at home. The next night IU will be in Lincoln, Nebraska, against the No. 7-ranked Cornhuskers. 

Although each player and coach has her own individual fear, collectively the team fears no one.

“We have nothing to lose,” Brisack said. “We are the underdogs, and everyone knows it, so we need to not care what anyone thinks or expects from us and just go play.”

Even though the Hoosiers haven’t won a match on the road in conference play, they have played some of their best volleyball in opposing environments. 

Most recently, Dunbar-Kruzan said the team outplayed Maryland last Friday night. The Hoosiers had more kills than the Terrapins, 58-52, and a better hitting percentage, .240 - .227, but they lost three sets to one.

The next night against Ohio State, IU was up six in two of the three sets played but was unable to seal the deal in either set, losing the match, 3-0.

At the beginning of the season, playing good volleyball and still coming up short was OK for Dunbar-Kruzan, but now she said the complacency has got to go. 

“It’s getting to the point where we’re going to have to make a decision that we’re just going to win,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “We are executing at a high enough level that we just have to make a decision to put the foot on the pedal and just go.”

IU took one set off Iowa last time the two teams met. To do that again and then some, the Hoosiers know they need to do what their coach said and believe they can win and go for it.

Whether it’s one set, two sets or a win against Iowa, the Hoosiers will need any confidence booster they can get to take on an 18-4 Nebraska team, who is 10-0 at home.

If the record isn’t enough proof, the résumé seals the deal. The Cornhuskers have swept No. 1 Penn State on the road, swept No. 5 Minnesota, beaten No. 8 Wisconsin in five sets, defeated No. 9 Michigan State twice in four sets each, taken out No. 22 Purdue in four and most recently swept Michigan, who was ranked earlier this year. 

Nebraska does play Purdue for a second time on Friday before IU comes to town, so not only are the Hoosiers hoping for a win against Iowa on Friday night, but they also wouldn’t mind some help from their in-state rival.

IU has a 12-12 overall record and eight games remaining. The team knows opportunity knocks in Iowa City and Lincoln this weekend. 

“We need to play as well as we know we can and as hard as we can,” Brisack said. “If we do that, I think we can really surprise some people, even against a team like Nebraska. We talk about it all the time, why not us?”

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