Heading into the final week of regular season play, IU volleyball needed wins against No. 12 Purdue and Northwestern to remain on the bubble.
After a five-set defeat against Purdue, IU’s last hope came on the road against Northwestern. The Hoosiers could not pull off the win, with the Wildcats winning in four sets.
“The match for me was about pride,” IU Coach Steve Aird said. “It was about playing hard and finishing the right way. Northwestern played really hard, and they deserved to win. They beat us in most phases of the night. You can make excuses, but they earned the win.”
IU ended the season with a 16-15 overall record and a 7-13 conference record. However, coming off a 1-19 conference season last year, Aird said he is not upset with the team’s outcome.
“We tried to inject some hope and some energy,” Aird said. “Hopefully people are proud of the fight and see the trajectory of the program.”
While attempting to complete a dig in the second set, sophomore libero Bayli Lebo was hit in the face by the ball off a Northwestern attack and was out for the remainder of the match.
Lebo had played every set of the season to that point, and against Purdue, she broke IU’s single season record in digs.
Aird has said the team's depth is minimal all season, which meant another injury was the last thing the team needed.
“It’s the irony of the year for us,” Aird said. “You lose your libero, and you have to make some crazy substitutions to make it work.”
Wins against Purdue and Northwestern could have been key, but IU has lost five Big Ten matches in five sets this season. If the team had pulled through in any of those, the storyline could have been different.
“The fact that in the last weekend of the season in the Big Ten we were still relevant, and we had an opportunity to go to the postseason, that’s what I’m most proud of,” Aird said. “I’m really proud of the staff and kids for battling.”
IU beat Northwestern in its Big Ten opener Sept. 21. However, in that match IU had its top attacker in junior Kendall Beerman, who tore her ACL one week later.
It was the opposite situation for Northwestern in that match, as its top attacker Nia Robinson was out. She made her presence felt in the second matchup between the teams by picking up 25 kills.
“She was the difference in the match,” Aird said.
From the start of the season, Aird’s motto has been to get 1 percent better each day. Despite not making the NCAA Tournament, Aird said his team accomplished most goals he set when he took over as head coach in December.
But moving forward, the goal is to continue to improve toward an elite level.
“I want this to be a final four program,” Aird said. “I don’t want to lose. We have to prepare and keep making changes to the program where a 16-15 year, while so many people are thrilled with the development, will be the worst year we have here.”