It’s an exciting weekend for IU volleyball.
Not only does the team have the opportunity to play the No. 5 and No. 10-ranked teams in its home gym, but it will also be the groundbreaking for IU volleyball's new arena, Wilkinson Hall, which will become its home gym starting next year.
The new facility will make memories in years to come, but right now IU is trying to make some lasting memories in University Gym in what’s been a tough season.
The Hoosiers are 1-13 in the conference, 12-14 overall and 6-6 at home.
However, this weekend could be a turning point as the Hoosiers will play No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 5 Minnesota at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night.
“This is a big week for Indiana volleyball,” IU Coach Sherry-Dunbar Kruzan said. “Having these types of teams come in front of our fans and groundbreaking our new facility is exciting. I want us to go into it with the same excitement.”
The Hoosiers are coming off two 3-0 losses to Iowa and No. 7 Nebraska. They are losses in which the team didn’t feel like it was competitive.
According to freshman defensive specialist Bayli Lebo, it wasn’t one specific aspect the team lacked over the weekend.
“Overall, the problem over the weekend was us collectively as a team,” Lebo said. “I don’t think it was necessarily one thing, we all have to put it together and we lacked that flow last weekend. We are getting back on it this week in practice.”
For the first time this year, Lebo played the libero position, something she was very familiar with in high school.
Against Iowa she dug out eight balls and recorded 13 versus Nebraska.
“I got moved to middle back at the beginning of the year and played that for most the season,” Lebo said. “But, I kind of got back into the feel of things (at the libero position). It felt natural to me since I have been playing it basically my entire life.”
Whether or not Lebo will play libero this weekend is still unknown. Dunbar-Kruzan’s philosophy is that you earn your playing time in practice the week leading up, and Lebo knows that, which is why she said she’s going to keep working hard and keep giving results.
As for the opponents this weekend, Wisconsin is no stranger to the Hoosiers this season, as IU went to Madison and really took it to the Badgers, despite losing 3-0.
There were times in that match where IU had a sizeable lead but couldn’t hold off the Badgers in the end. Lebo said they are really focusing on closing sets out in preparation.
“We left that match, and we were really frustrated because we were up big in a couple sets,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “I think we have a good game plan for them already. We went into Wisconsin in front of 6,000 fans and played pretty well so we’re excited to play them on our home floor.”
That will be Friday night. On Saturday night, the 23-2 Gophers will be the opponent. Both Gopher losses have come in conference play to Michigan State and Nebraska.
Eight of their 14 conference games they have swept their opponents, and IU has been swept in nine of its 14 conference games.
One of the focal points for IU is its defense and the ability to turn it into offense.
“We have been really focusing on defense because it’s a mentality, and it’s a momentum shifter,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “If somebody makes a big dig and we can turn it into a transition kill then that can change the whole momentum in a set. So, we’ve been really striving in practice to have that mentality.”
Despite the 1-13 record in conference, the team morale is high.
“There’s no sense of coming in negative,” Lebo said. “We’re coming in positive every day and giving a lot of effort. We have great opportunities to play these amazing teams and we just have to make the most of them.”