Freshman setter Abigail Westenhofer and freshman middle blocker Lexi Johnson have decided to leave the IU volleyball program.
The two freshmen decided that despite helping the program make immediate progress under first-year head coach Steve Aird, they simply want to step away from the sport, according to the coach.
“They’re both really good kids,” Aird said. “Loved the staff, loved the school but thought it was a good personal decision for them to move on.”
Aird made it clear there was no tension between himself and the players and expressed his wishes of future success for both. He said he continues to be in contact with the two freshmen, despite their removal from the roster.
Johnson will continue her education at IU, where she is majoring in interior design, but Westenhofer still remains undecided on what her next step will be, according to Aird.
“You never want people to move on because they’re good people, and you enjoy being around them,” Aird said. “But I’m really happy with the contribution they made to the program.”
The roster changes come amidst an influx of transfers and recruits joining the program during its rebuild.
“What we’re trying to do right now is add some depth,” Aird said. “In terms of the program, I’m really excited about the direction."
Taking Johnson’s slot on the court will be junior outside hitter Megan Sloan, who is already on the spring roster. Sloan is a 6-foot-1-inch transfer from the University of Louisville and a native of Zionsville, Indiana.
“Megan’s fit in perfectly,” Aird said. “She’s had an outstanding spring and looks great.”
Incoming freshman Emily Fitzner will come in as a setter in the fall but will not necessarily be taking over Westenhofer’s role, as Fitzner would make a strong case for the starting spot regardless of who is on the roster.
Fitzner is a first-team All-American from California and a member of the USA Women’s Junior A1 National Training Team.
“Emily’s well on her way to come in and be ready to play right away,” Aird said.
As Aird continues to look for additions to the roster, Virginia Tech freshman middle blocker Peyton Yelich announced on Twitter that she will also be transferring to IU.
Similar to Sloan, Yelich is also a native of Indiana coming from Crown Point, Indiana. Aird has said throughout his tenure at IU that a major goal for him is bringing in top players from within the state, and he continues to trend in that direction.
“What’s changing is the perception of our program in the state,” Aird said. “Now it’s becoming a destination for kids in the state to want to play here.”
Freshman defensive specialist Klaire Thoman is another new addition to the spring roster. She transferred from the University of Arizona.
“Klaire has really good energy, and she’s a really good teammate,” Aird said. “She’s really helped the culture of the program out of the gate."
Aird’s spring will be filled with recruiting trips in hopes of adding talent to his roster. Playing in arguably the best conference in the nation, Aird said it is important to have depth at every position and his players have embraced the competition that comes with that.
Last season, Aird saw firsthand the effects injuries can have on a team. IU’s top outside hitter junior Kendall Beerman tore her ACL during a loss against Minnesota. Despite being able to remain competitive, added depth behind Beerman could have been enough to get the team into the NCAA Tournament.
“You don’t want to have a bad year because you simply don’t have a sub, and there becomes a hole in the lineup that you don’t have a patch for,” Aird said. “It helps the program get better and gives us a chance to have success.”
IU will kick off its spring season April 6 when it travels to Louisville, Kentucky, for the KIVA Tournament. The team will play in another tournament in Angola, Indiana, the following weekend before returning home.
IU will play host to Butler University and Miami University on April 19 and 20 to close out the spring season.
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