Two nonconference weekends down, and two nonconference weekends to go.
The team has collected a 4-1 record in the process, but it is clear from conversations with IU Coach Steve Aird that wins and losses mean very little right now.
Not to say the team is not competitive – most athletes are – but there is a bigger picture this season.
That could be a turn-off for fans who want to see a winning team Sept. 21 when IU opens up home play against Northwestern.
However, a team that was 1-19 in Big Ten Conference play last season might not be able to do that – especially because it is the Big Ten.
With that being said, there have been signs of hope and clear examples of a rebuild that could turn into a dynasty in a few years.
Here are some things to know and expect before the Hoosiers return home in just over two weeks.
Aird’s first incoming freshman class was filled with high school awards.
Highlighted by setter Abigail Westenhofer, the class also included middle blocker Lexi Johnson and outside hitter Breana Edwards.
From offense to defense, the newest team members have produced on the court. While Westenhofer is just five assists behind the team lead, Edwards ranks second on the team in kills and Johnson is second on the team in blocks.
A large part of this success stems from the in-game oppurtnities Aird has given the freshmen. It could be tough to get playing time coming in as a freshman, but that is not the case at IU.
Each of the freshmen have played at least 17 of 19 total sets this season.
“They’re going to get the opportunity to compete from day one,” Aird said Aug. 21 before the team left for Las Vegas. “They’re going to be able to gather experience quickly.”
Big Ten domination
History shows that winning in the Big Ten is tough.
Since 1995, 12 national champions have come from the conference. And in more timely terms, the most recent AVCA Volleyball Coaches Poll had three Big Ten teams ranked in the top five.
Although succeeding in a loaded conference can be tough, it also creates strong competition for the younger players to learn from.
Aird also has experience coaching in the conference, spending time as Penn State’s assistant coach and Maryland’s head coach before coming to IU.
“Everyone I’ve interacted with knows the ending and the score,” Aird said Aug. 14. “I don’t think there’s anyone — from our administration, to our town, to the people in the state of Indiana — that is going to ask us to do something that’s way outlandish.”
Getting “1 percent better each day”
It may seem obvious to say, but the key to a successful rebuild is buying into the rebuild.
Often times players and fans may get impatient when the team is losing, but it is clear that the IU players and staff have bought in.
“Coach Aird has done a really great job of getting people to buy in,” junior Kendall Beerman said after the Cream and Crimson Scrimmage on Aug. 18. “His energy is off the charts. He’s completely bought into us and everything in the program.”
The message has consistently been to get 1 percent better each day. Regardless of win or loss, Aird’s postgame interviews are usually centered around specifics the team needs to improve on or already has improved on.
Some of Aird’s biggest criticisms of the team have come after wins, while some of his highest praise came after the team’s loss to Texas A&M at the Penn State Invitational.
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