If there were any doubts about the difficulty of playing volleyball in the Big Ten, the weekend ahead for IU could shut those down.
Last week IU took on two top-15 opponents — beating No. 14 Michigan and losing to No. 13 Purdue. For most teams, that would be considered the toughest two-game stretch of the season, but that is not the case for teams like IU in the Big Ten.
This weekend IU will take on No. 3 Minnesota and No. 8 Wisconsin on back-to-back nights.
“This is the toughest road trip on the Big Ten schedule,” IU Coach Steve Aird said. “Not only from the back-to-back nights, but two exceptional teams.”
Wisconsin has been a top-five team for a majority of the season, but losses to Minnesota and Michigan last week caused the team fall in the standings.
With IU’s defeat of Michigan and Michigan's defeat of Wisconsin, IU does have the transitive win. However, Aird said it is unfair to assume that those previous results mean IU can pull off a win.
“I don’t think A plus B ever equals C,” Aird said. “The teams we’re discussing, their goal is to make a deep run in the tournament.”
IU lost in straight sets at home to Minnesota on Sept. 29, but Aird said he feels his team has grown since the loss.
On the flipside, Minnesota has continued its dominance since that match. The Golden Gophers are 14-0 in the conference this season with seven of those wins against ranked opponent.
In that match, IU lost its top outside hitter in junior Kendall Beerman, who is out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.
“We’ve improved in a lot of areas, but that’s always relative because Minnesota has as well,” Aird said. “More than anything else, we’re learning a lot. Not just about how to play the game, but about the culture and what we want this thing to be.”
In the match with Minnesota earlier this season, sophomore libero Bayli Lebo recorded 11 digs, but on the season as a whole she has 423.
She needs 15 digs per match in the remainder of the regular season to match the IU single-season record.
“I pay attention to it a little bit,” Lebo said. “I more look at each game trying to at least get double-digits because all liberos should get double-digit digs. I get frustrated when I don’t just because I know I can do more for the team.”
Since Beerman’s injury, IU has been forced to deal with what Aird described as very little depth.
That has forced players like junior defensive specialist Meaghan Koors to get increased playing time in the last few weeks. Despite not playing regularly at the start of the season, Koors led the team in digs last season and said she was comfortable stepping in.
But in Saturday’s match against Purdue, she dove to complete a dig that actually landed on the other side of the net for a kill — her first since Nov. 3, 2017, against Iowa.
“I didn’t actually know it was happening because I was on the floor” Koors said. “Then I was like ‘oh, crap’ that was in.”
IU will hope that good fortune rolls over to this weekend. The match with Minnesota is at 7 p.m. Friday with Wisconsin’s match at 7 p.m. Saturday.
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