The IU volleyball team got off to an impressive start this season by winning 11 of its 13 nonconference games, including a five-set road victory over the 23-6 and ninth-seeded University of Kentucky in September.
But once conference play began in the Big Ten, things quickly changed for the Hoosiers.
IU went on to lose 12 of its first 13 conference games and was unable to gain any real momentum after doing so, finishing with a 3-17 conference record and a 14-19 overall record. For the ninth straight season, the Hoosiers missed out on a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Yet despite all of the losing records and droughts, there appears to be substantial optimism surrounding this program.
In many ways, head coach Steve Aird’s second season much resembled his first by way of a strong nonconference showing and a marquee win, this season being the University of Kentucky and last season being Michigan.
As the Hoosiers continue to show more competitiveness in its matches against the top-notch Big Ten programs, Aird likes what he sees and believes in the future of his program.
“We’ve got really good kids coming in; we’re developing players, and we’ve lost a few close matches,” Aird said. “I’ll leave it up for everyone else to say that it (the program) has gone backwards or it’s not developing. It’s just noise.”
One major reason for hope has to be IU’s youth.
Sophomore outside hitter Breana Edwards, freshman setter Emily Fitzner and freshman defensive specialist Haley Armstrong all played a pivotal role in IU’s squad this year as underclassmen. In fact, those three each led the team in blocks, assists and digs. Edwards’ strong play earned her All-Big Ten Second Team honors.
That young core, combined with an incoming recruiting class that Aird calls one of the best in program history, makes for some intriguing pieces to the rebuild puzzle for IU. The recruiting class is eight deep and includes outside hitter Tommi Stockham, the No. 32 ranked recruit according to PrepVolleyball.com. The many new faces will fill the gaps for the seven current seniors on the roster.
What this means is that IU’s young team is about to get even younger. And with its youth brings uncertainty on the results for years to come. However, there’s no doubt that belief in the process lies within Aird, his staff and his team as it continues to embark on the rebuild journey.