When IU volleyball head coach Steve Aird was hired in 2018, one of the first things he did was drive an hour to Indianapolis. It wasn’t to explore the city though, rather it was to get a head start on recruiting.
After bouncing around multiple times to watch some of the top high school volleyball clubs play, something became apparent to Aird — the lack of IU interest and apparel worn by potential recruits. Everywhere he looked, players and fans donned T-shirts and sweatshirts with college logos on them, but rarely did IU’s cream and crimson make an appearance.
“It hit me when I got up there,” Aird said. “I said ‘okay, where the heck is the IU stuff?’”
Aird coached a perennial top-15 team in the Big Ten in Penn State, where he won two NCAA titles in 2007 and 2013. With that level competition, IU’s active streak of 10 years without an NCAA Tournament appearance has been no match for corralling the top recruits in the Midwest.
Years worth of underachieving and losing seasons evolved the Hoosiers into a less-than-desirable destination for recruits. Since 2011, the Hoosiers have finished with a winning record in only two seasons.
The ongoing struggle to compete in the conference left behind a sizable rebuilding project following the departure of former head coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan in 2017, a rebuild that few coaches were eager to take on. Until Aird was hired.
"Twenty-four months ago we got here as a staff,” Aird said. “Our number one thing was to try to get to the point where this program we felt was relevant nationally.”
Now, Aird is beginning to come through on his promise as IU welcomes the No. 15 recruiting class in the nation, according to PrepVolleyball.com. It’s the Hoosiers’ highest-ranked recruiting class in program history.
“We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” Aird said. “But you’ve got to start somewhere, so we’re pretty excited about where we’re starting and where we’re at.”
The eight-player 2020 recruiting class is headlined by 6-foot-2-inch outside hitter Tommi Stockham. The Las Vegas, Nevada native is the No. 32 recruit in the nation and the second-highest ranked IU commit in program history.
The Hoosiers are also adding a pair of Under Armour All-Americans in Leyla Blackwell, a 6-foot-4-inch middle blocker from San Diego, California, and Savannah Kjolhede, a 6-foot-3-inch middle blocker from Colleyville, Texas.
“It’s a pretty brave decision for them to join our program considering the history of our program and the options they had,” Aird said. “These kids all had high-level options to go to really, really good programs that are top-10, top-15 schools. They’re wired differently.”
As Aird enters his third season at the helm of the Hoosiers, his recruiting acumen has resulted in IU's ascent in the rankings. However, Aird understands that talent alone won’t be enough to turn the Hoosiers into conference or national contenders.
It’s going to take patience and a certain belief in the entire support system, Aird said, along with players who know what it means to wear the IU logo.
If all goes to plan, it might only be a matter of time before Aird starts to see many more IU T-shirts and sweatshirts on future recruiting trips to Indianapolis.
“A lot of kids want to play in the Big Ten to say they play in the Big Ten or to wear the jersey and say they’re part of it,” Aird said. “I think it’s a different kind of kid who wants to come here and kick someone’s ass.”
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