IU volleyball will not play against Penn State at the Penn State Invitational this weekend, but the presence of the Nittany Lions success will still be evident.
Penn State has won seven national titles in its program’s history, with six coming since 2007.
At the helm of all this success has been Russ Rose, who is in his 40th season as the team’s head coach.
The invitational will honor Rose’s career while also serving as a homecoming for IU coaches.
IU Coach Steve Aird and assistant coach Daniel Gwitt both spent their playing careers at Penn State, with Aird spending time as the team’s assistant coach in 2007, 2012 and 2013.
Aird said he always looked up to Rose as a mentor and looks forward to being in attendance for his ceremonies.
“Outside of my dad, he’s the most important man in my life,” Aird said. “It’s a cool gesture to bring the program I’m with to him.”
Although a 3-0 record in his opening weekend as IU head coach is nothing close to what Rose has built, it is at the least a start to the rebuild Aird wants for the Hoosiers.
With three games under its belt, the team's focus will now shift to Stage College, Pennsylvania.
The Hoosiers will play against Texas A&M on Friday and Temple on Saturday.
A large part of IU’s success in its opening weekend was due to strong defense, particularly from junior Deyshia Lofton, who picked up 20 blocks — six of which were solo.
“Just being prepared for all of our matches going into it,” Lofton said about what was key to winning the opening three games. “Coach always says we get ready for Friday matches on Wednesday, so being in practice and being mindful about the things that we’re doing translates into games well.”
Although the early games may be normal nonconference games to upperclassmen, it was the first opportunity for freshmen to compete at the Division I level, as Aird had three in the starting lineup.
Outside hitter Breana Edwards, middle blocker Lexi Johnson and setter Abigail Westenhofer all picked up nine or more sets in the opening invitational in Las Vegas.
“The freshmen have so much talent and so much potential to be great,” Lofton said. “Them having the confidence to step out on the court and do what they did — being with older girls, veterans, and handling the ball the way they — did I’m really proud of them for that.”
The new players, the vibe of the new coaching staff and the motto of “The New IU” have caught national attention as well.
On Wednesday the Hoosiers were given control of the NCAA Volleyball Instagram account.
Various members of the team posted on the Instagram story, including their workout routines, lunch at Memorial Stadium and more.
“That’s really exciting,” Lofton said. “Getting that exposure is really good for our team. With everything going on, with the new coaching staff and our new arena, it’s very exciting for us. We’re going in a very positive direction, and I’m excited for IUVB.”
For Aird, however, the takeover is not so much about the team’s national exposure, but rather about the players’ lives outside the arena.
“I like the fact that they have personalities,” Aird said. “We see ourself getting more and more attention nationally which is cool, but for me it’s about getting better. Being nationally relevant because we’re good at marketing is a lot different than being nationally relevant because you’ve got a big time team.”
The Penn State Invitational will be the second of four nonconference, road tournaments for the team before Big Ten Conference play opens Sept. 21 against Northwestern at University Gym.
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