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Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student

sports volleyball

Column: Volleyball program coming into its own with help of Dunbar

After her first nine Big Ten games as IU volleyball coach in 2007, Sherry Dunbar had complied a 5-4 record.

For most coaches, a record slightly above .500 in conference isn’t anything to write home about.

However, when you take into consideration that in the three seasons prior to Dunbar’s arrival IU had five conference wins and 55 conference losses, it takes on a whole different meaning.

The 2010 season marks the fourth year with the Hoosiers for Dunbar, and the impression that she has made on her program is already showing.

In their Sept. 22 match against Purdue, the Hoosiers played in front of a record-setting crowd of 2,308 at University Gym.

The raucous crowd would have been even bigger if not for fire code rules having to turn people away at the door.

“Anytime you can play in front of a home crowd, sold out, it's amazing,” Dunbar said. “This is a great venue to have that in because it’s small, and I feel like the fans think that they are a part of the action.”

In a sport that is fast-paced and thrives off teamwork and momentum, an energetic crowd can often make the difference between wins and losses.

“We are a very emotional-based team,” IU junior libero Caitlin Cox said. “The attendance for the Purdue game was amazing, and I think that really got us fired up. I hope that they come back and support us.”

The 2010 season couldn’t have started off any better for Dunbar and the Hoosiers as they entered conference play with a school-record 12-0 start.

However, the toughest conference in the nation hit the Hoosiers hard as they lost their first four matches to begin the Big Ten season.

Three of those four losses were to nationally-ranked teams, and IU has been fighting injuries throughout the early portion of the Big Ten season.

Dunbar said she takes the “next man up” (in this case, woman) approach from the Indianapolis Colts when it comes to using her entire roster and keeping everyone ready to play at any time.    

“I think that’s where our program has to get to,” Dunbar said. “Creating that depth where we just don’t lose that one person and things start to slide downhill.”

With their backs against the wall, IU recorded two of the program’s biggest back-to-back wins in its history, defeating No. 29 Ohio State and No. 4 Penn State last weekend.

On Friday, the Hoosiers recorded their first Big Ten win of the 2010 season when they knocked off the Buckeyes in four sets.

Friday’s win was crucial as IU headed into Saturday’s matchup against the Nittany Lions. The Hoosiers had a 0-39 all-time record against the three-time defending NCAA national champions.

But this isn’t the old IU volleyball program. The old IU might have folded after capturing set one, the first set won against Penn State since 2001, but not these Hoosiers.

For the second-straight night, the Hoosiers won a four-set match and have now positioned themselves nicely for later.

With 14 matches remaining this season, IU has its eyes set squarely on returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002.

Even though the big picture is there, these Hoosiers are living by an age-old sports cliche — “One game at a time.”

“We have 14 matches left, and that’s a lot of volleyball,” Dunbar said.  “We can’t think big picture. We have to put a really competitive product out on the floor, and if we can do that, then we will compete.”    

An NCAA Tournament bid would be another huge step in the right direction for a program that has seen so much growth thanks to Dunbar and her players.

“When I came down here before, it is a totally different atmosphere now,” Cox said. “We’ve set something here at IU that they’ve never had in their program. I think that is really cool — that people are starting to get into volleyball and the people really enjoy watching us.”

E-mail: kdbowen@indiana.edu

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