For the second time this season, IU volleyball had a chance to take down No. 12 Purdue.
The teams battled through a fifth set Nov. 3 in West Lafayette, Indiana, with Purdue pulling through in the end. Despite the home court advantage in front of a sold out University Gym on Wednesday, the Hoosiers saw the same result as the Boilermakers took the fifth set.
“The whole program is really hurt, and that’s a good thing,” IU Coach Steve Aird said. “That’s a great sign that our team and our program is so upset that we didn’t get it done. That’s another step forward just in caring and believing.”
The game marked the end of the team’s era in University Gym, but it did not go out quietly. The 1,877 people in attendance marked the ninth time this season that more than 1,000 people have packed the stadium.
That only occurred once last season.
“Losing sucks, you don’t want to lose, and everyone inside the program is competitive,” Aird said. “I hope that if you’re a fan of the program, a fan of Indiana, you’re proud. We were 1-19 a year ago, and we’re battling top-15 teams to five games.”
IU dropped the first two sets in the match but battled back in the third and the fourth. Despite losing the match, IU outscored Purdue 105-102.
“Purdue played great when they had to,” Aird said. “I would hope that everyone involved in both matches, both at Purdue and here, would think that we’ve done a nice job of trying to close the gap. Purdue is excellent, and they’ve been good for a really long time.”
Aird has said numerous times throughout the season that playing under pressure is a privilege. Under the pressure of a game with Purdue that had postseason implications, Aird said he felt his team handled it well and fought hard.
“Bodies were flying all over the place, and that’s one thing that I hope the program continues to do over time,” Aird said. “I want to play hard, battle and be a pain in the side for teams that we play.”
Aird himself, who is usually stoic during matches, was clearly trying to get his team fired up throughout the match by shouting “Let's go” and waving his arm when the team would pick up a needed point.
“I don’t like doing that, but it’s a rivalry match,” Aird said. “There’s times you’ve got to go and fight for your kids.”
The night included a packed stat sheet for IU, with four players recording 10 or more kills.
Freshmen Breana Edwards and Lexi Johnson were two of those players, and the effort by the underclassmen did not go unnoticed by the seniors on senior night.
“This season, there was a lot of weight put on the underclassmen’s shoulders just because we’re so light on numbers,” senior defensive specialist Samantha Fogg said. “They really stood up to the challenge, and that’s going to make them be even more mature next year and the years after that.”
Sophomore Bayli Lebo recorded 28 digs, which puts her at 516 this season. That number surpasses Caitlin Cox’s single-season record of 513 digs in 2010.
“She’s got so much left in the tank,” Aird said. “She’s got other gears. She’s got a lot of plays that she can make.”
IU’s last chance at building up its postseason resume will be Friday at Northwestern.
With a 16-14 record overall and a 7-12 record in the conference, IU is on the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament. A loss Friday could put those hopes away.
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