Now at 1-11 in conference after eight straight losses, IU volleyball finds itself over a month removed since its last victory — a clean four-set win at home against Northwestern. Despite the losing skid, a positive energy and mindset still rings through the words of IU coaches and players.
“Contrary to popular belief, I’m fired up,” IU head coach Steve Aird said. “You don’t take over jobs that rebuild if you’re quick to wave the white flag. Certain people love the grind of it.”
The grind of the difficult Big Ten conference proceeds this weekend, when IU travels east to face No. 8 Penn State on Friday night and Rutgers on Saturday night. Ahead of the weekend road matches, here are three things to know.
Two different opponents
It doesn’t take much looking to figure out that IU will be facing two completely different opponents in No. 8 Penn State and Rutgers this weekend. The Nittany Lions, Aird’s alma mater, sit at 10-2 in the conference, tied for third. The Scarlet Knights, although improved from last year, come in with an opposite conference record of 2-10, putting them alone in 12th.
It’s fair to say the Hoosiers will get a dose of both sides of the Big Ten coin this weekend. On Saturday, they will have a chance to catch or even pass Rutgers in the conference standings with a win, depending on Friday night’s results for each team. Despite this, IU’s attention, at least for the time being, remains on Penn State.
“We’re focusing more on Penn State right now,” junior defensive specialist Bayli Lebo said. “It’s going to be two different matchups. You’ve got to prepare for one and then turn around and prepare for another.”
Brighter days ahead?
To begin the Big Ten season, an IU team with nine new faces was tossed into the fire by playing its first five of six conference matches against teams ranked in the top 20. Now, the schedule eases up a bit on the Hoosiers. Aside from two remaining matches against Penn State, IU plays no teams currently ranked in the top 25 in its final eight matches.
Many of IU’s remaining Big Ten matches will come against first-time opponents on the season, including Penn State, Rutgers, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State twice. On Nov. 15, the Hoosiers will get another crack at Maryland, who came back to beat IU in five sets Oct. 16.
Most of IU’s remaining opponents sit in the middle-to-lower tier of the Big Ten standings, potentially opening the door for some wins down the stretch.
Recent struggles at the net
In its last two matches against No. 15 Purdue and No. 4 Wisconsin, IU struggled with its kill and block numbers against the talented Big Ten foes. Between the two matches, IU was out-killed 89-59 and out-blocked 15-6.
IU is still without sophomore outside hitter Kari Zumach, although the team has gotten healthier from the start of the season. If the Hoosiers are going to pick up some wins in the closing weeks of the season, a spike in the team’s hitting and blocking numbers will be a welcoming sign.