Opportunity filled the air in the University Gym on Friday and Saturday night as the Hoosiers had a chance to turn their season around.
On paper, it could be argued whether they did or not, but according to IU players and coaches, their fortunes might be changing.
After eight straight losses to Big Ten opponents, the Hoosiers were finally able to pick up their first conference victory Friday night against Rutgers in five sets.
For the second time in conference competition, IU won the first set, taking it 25-17 against the Scarlet Knights. All looked well for the Hoosiers until the second set, as Rutgers made easy work of IU, taking the set 25-14.
Tied at one set apiece, both teams battled back and forth to gain the 2-1 advantage. IU led 20-19, but it was Rutgers which again got the best of the Hoosiers to take the third set, 25-22.
It put IU in a must-win scenario in the fourth set to keep its hopes of a first conference win alive.
The Hoosiers did just that as they jumped out to a 9-4 lead and never looked back, taking the fourth set, 25-15.
The last five-set match IU played was at Northwestern two weeks ago, and IU lost it 15-8.
However, IU was up 2-1 in that match against the Wildcats, and it was Northwestern which won set four and carried over that momentum to set five.
This time, IU was able to do exactly what Northwestern did.
The Hoosiers took momentum from the fourth set and carried it into the fifth, winning the deciding set, 15-9.
“It wasn’t a great volleyball match, but I did think in sets four and five we started to play really good volleyball,” IU Coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan said. “It felt really good for the kids to get that and I was really proud of them.”
The comfort level Dunbar-Kruzan saw in the fifth set was something she said you won’t see too often with freshmen and sophomores on the floor. She also was pleased that the last set was their best set, as it showed the resilience of the team and their desire to get the win.
It was a balanced attack on the offensive end for the Hoosiers as they had four players hit for double-digit kills.
Junior right side hitter Elizabeth Asdell led the way with 13 kills, sophomore middle blockers Deyshia Lofton and Hayden Huybers had 12 and 11, and senior outside hitter Jessica Leish finished with 10.
Freshman outside hitter Kamryn Malloy wasn’t too far behind with nine, and the same for sophomore outside hitter Kendall Beerman, who had eight.
“It felt amazing,” Huybers said. “We went out there and played our hardest. It was a tough match but we got the win and it felt really great.”
IU looked to use momentum from its first win and carry it over to Saturday when the No. 1-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions came to Bloomington.
From the way the first set was going, it looked as if the first eight losses of conference play were all but an afterthought for the Hoosiers.
IU was under control and looked comfortable against the best team in the nation.
The score was even for the first couple of points before IU went on quick 4-1 run to give them a 11-7 advantage. The Hoosiers kept the lead up until 16-15, when Penn State went on a 6-0 to completely shift the momentum of the first set as they led 21-16.
The Hoosiers made some costly errors down the stretch of the first set. Mix that in with the powerhouse hitting of Penn State, and that five-point deficit was too much to overcome. Penn State took the first set, 25-21.
Sets two and three were struggles as well for the Hoosiers. IU couldn’t find a way to slow down Penn State’s senior middle blocker Haleigh Washington, who had 13 kills with a hitting percentage of .800.
Washington and the rest of her team went on to get a 25-13 second set win, and a 25-15 third set win to improve to 19-1 on the season.
Despite the sweep, the Hoosiers said they are not disappointed. They came away with their first conference win this weekend, and Dunbar-Kruzan said there were times where the team really took it to Penn State and stood them up.
IU is now 12-10 on the season and still has 10 games remaining.
“The momentum we got from the game against Rutgers and the learning we’re going to get from Penn State is going to take us into the next week and the remaining games,” Huybers said. “I think we have an uprising for sure."
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