The postponement of Big Ten athletics wasn’t necessarily a surprise to members of the IU volleyball program. While they are disappointed, their focus is unwavering.
IU volleyball head coach Steve Aird said he understands how student-athletes and fans feel about the news, he is focused on the aspects of life to be grateful for.
“If you have a roof, internet access, friends and family you should count your blessings,” Aird said.
With all the worldwide losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Aird said there is more to worry about outside of sports.
“The spotlight has been shining brightly on systematic racism,” Aird said. “The country is more divided than ever. So, I tell our athletes to really take an inventory of what to be grateful for. Sport is the vehicle in which we teach life lessons.”
Senior Brooke Westbeld said she believes the whole team will continue to learn some of those lessons this year, especially that of overcoming adversity and gaining perspective.
For a young program, these extra few months are crucial for the Hoosiers. The added five months expected before competition begins provides the team with valuable time to practice, gain cohesion and make up for time lost in the spring and summer.
“With being such a young team, it is super beneficial especially for our freshman as they get this extra time to work with the coaches, learn the system and just get that extra preparation going into their first Big Ten season,” Westbeld said. “Overall, the postponement simply means more time.”
The Hoosiers will need that time to adjust to the challenges ahead in the spring. Following the Big Ten’s announcement to cancel sports in the fall, seniors Bayli Lebo and Kamryn Mallory both decided to opt-out of the potential spring season. Mallory was a key contributor last season leading the team with 33 aces and 275 digs while Lebo has been a central component in the Hoosier lineup currently ranked No. 15 in program history with 970 career digs.
Despite the losses, Westbeld said she remains confident that Hoosiers’ ability to support each other will be important for their success.
“The teams that are going to be really successful throughout this time are those that have the ability to go through tough moments together, but pick each other up along the way and keep improving,” she said.
As IU adjusts to its new schedule, Westbeld said morale remains high for the team knowing that they have each other, their coaches and their talent. Which means they’ll be ready for whatever comes their way, whenever that may be.
“Hope really isn’t the best strategy,” Aird said. “People need to wear masks, social distance and be respectful so folks can stay alive. That’s what’s first. We also need to work to put a great plan together to play in the spring. I am working on that every day.”
To Aird, part of that plan means making sure larger sports like football and basketball get going. He knows how important they are to athletic departments throughout the country and that they’ll likely be the deciding factor for spring sports.
“My players need to know I am working hard every day for them," Aird said. "Young coaches across the country need to know we are working for them. I’m not really wired to sit on the couch and tell everyone there is no chance it will happen. If there is a one percent chance we can provide our players a meaningful season, then it’s all gas no breaks.”