“The New IU” was the message all over social media after Steve Aird took over as the head coach of the volleyball program.
This includes new results on the court and new energy in practice, but what might be most important is a new culture.
The opening weekend of home play was a step in that direction, as University Gym saw an environment unlike many in years past, as the Hoosiers defeated Northwestern before losing to Illinois on Sunday.
Against Northwestern, a DJ sat in the student section pregame, electrifying the crowd as it poured in. Buckets packed the stands as a drumbeat created by the students echoed throughout the arena. People in shark and dinosaur costumes stood out in the bleachers.
“The students are learning it’s going to take time to build a culture,” Aird said. “That type of energy and excitement is what I wanted to do when I took the job.”
The buckets were eventually put away because Northwestern complained it was a noisemaker. However, Aird thinks otherwise.
“Hashtag we want buckets,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to win all the time, but I want it to be fun.”
Before the game, students gathered outside University Gym for the first organized IU volleyball tailgate. Free food was provided for students, while the IU Drumline set the mood.
“It’s a culture change. You’ve got to come see it for yourself,” Student Athletic Board chair Kobe Fleming said. “They’re just trying to make it more like a party, getting it more riled up — trying to have it feel like anything is possible.”
For fans that frequently come out to support the volleyball team, it was clear that the era under Coach Aird is different.
“I’ve been on top of it, and I was pretty excited about what we’ve been hearing and seeing,” season ticket holder Jimmy Johnson said. “He made a statement that he was going to fill the arena, and I wanted to get here early.”
As a team that went 1-19 in Big Ten Conference play last season, volleyball saw only one home game with more than 1,000 fans in attendance.
“It was completely different. Student Athletic Board did a great job,” junior middle blocker Deyshia Lofton said. “We made U Gym a hard place to play in.”
Delays in the construction of Wilkinson Hall have forced the Hoosiers to play at University Gym, but that won't stop Aird from trying to create a fun environment.
"No one’s all that fired up about playing in this building, me included, but it’s a tough place to play," Aird said. "We expect the crowds to be great as the year goes on."
Aird has consistently said throughout the season that wins and losses are not the only thing the team is concerned about.
The team’s Instagram story Friday morning said, “Help us build something special starting tonight.”
This past weekend could be the start of something that IU has not had in years – a successful volleyball program.
It all starts with creating a culture, and year one is headed in that direction.