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Volleyball to open Big Ten Conference play at home


The IU volleyball team cheers before their game against Arkansas State on Sept. 16, 2016 at IU University Gym. The team will open up Big Ten Conference play against Northwestern on Friday.  Stella Devina Buy Photos

Cow outfits and marshmallow heads highlight the start to Big Ten Conference play for IU volleyball.

As the team comes home for the first time after opening the season with four consecutive weekends on the road, IU Coach Steve Aird is living up to his promise of creating a new environment at University Gym.

A tailgate is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Friday before the team takes on Northwestern an hour later.

Inside the stadium there will be a DJ in the stands and drums in the student section.

“It’ll be a little different than most every volleyball environment in the country,” Aird said. “We’re hoping that when we get into the new arena, it turns into that on steroids.”

After setbacks to construction on Wilkinson Hall, the team will continue to host its home games at U-Gym.

Aird compares the new stadium to a Christmas present that you know is in the closet but can’t open for a few weeks.

However, the players' focus is not on where they play.

“We’re more grateful to be home since we’ve been on the road for four weeks,” sophomore Bayli Lebo said. “It’s taken a toll on us, we just want to be home and show our fans what we’ve been working on.”

Aird said the team is in a better place emotionally now that they have the entire week at home. 

“Being at home matters,” Aird said.

Being at home will not be easy. The Hoosiers take on Northwestern on Friday, a team that defeated them in five sets last year.

Then, IU will welcome No. 8 Illinois. The Fighting Illini come in with an 11-0 record and defeated IU both times the teams faced off last season.

“The conference is a beast,” Aird said. “Every team in the Big Ten is better at home, so our goal is to be better at home.”

Five Big Ten teams rank in the top 10 of the AVCA Coaches Poll and could make it tough on IU to rebound from a 1-19 conference record last season.

IU has continued its motto of getting 1 percent better each day, and Aird said he understands the rebuild is a process.

“Perception is reality,” Aird said. “We’re doing some things the right way and we’re working hard, but these things are slow building and it takes time.”

The Hoosiers went 9-2 in nonconference play against teams that Aird and Lebo both said was tougher than in years past.

One thing that the team showed in the first 11 games was its ability to fight in long matches, going 3-0 in five-set matches.

“I definitely think it's prepared us,” Lebo said. “Those five-set matches made us tougher.”

Aird said the team will play more freely as an underdog in the conference and look to pull off some upsets.

“The hardest thing about winning is consistently winning,” Aird said. “Until we draw a line in the sand and say ‘you’re not going to win anymore because we’re better, tougher and training the right way,’ that’s when it changes.” 

The matchup with Illinois will be at 1 p.m. Sunday. 

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