IU volleyball head coach Steve Aird let out a loud yell as he joined the Zoom callThursday. Known for his high-energy approach, Aird’s enthusiasm mirrors the program's continued enthusiasm despite the setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Naturally, fall training started — and stopped and restarted again — with some issues.
After the Big Ten stopped all athletic activities in March, limiting the team’s ability for offseason training and skill work, they returned back to campus in June. They were able to practice together in July, but as COVID-19 cases increased they continued to face more problems.
“[We were] disjointed,” Aird said. “We started preseason in August and had about four or five days of training before they shut down the Big Ten season.”
After the initial shutdown, the team eventually was able to start training together again in late August, but everything looked and felt very different. Aird and his players had to work through positive tests within the team, contact tracing and multiple starts and stops to training throughout the fall.
But training wasn’t the only thing that was different.
Given group gathering restrictions and safety precautions, Aird and his wife were unable to continue their tradition of having the team over to their home for team bonding. Instead, the only real opportunities for bonding came from training and interactions with their roommates.
“It was the first time in a really long time we haven’t been able to do any of the stuff that we like or do any kind of fun road trip or team meals,” Aird said. “You get really close when you are on the road ... it’s kind of you versus the world and we didn’t have any of that either.”
And yet, the Hoosiers prevailed.
“I thought the team got closer, I thought they worked really hard,” Aird said. “They did their best to persevere.”
With the safety of the program remaining a top priority, the team plans to return to campus at the end of December to undergo testing and other quarantine protocols with the goal of resuming practices in early January.
Aird said the time away from their teammates in December puts an emphasis on the girls to try to stay fit when they’re home. Each player will have an individualized plan for conditioning while at home over the break as well as ways to maintain their newly acquired skills.
When the team returns, Aird said his staff will ease the players back into practice to reduce the risk of injury.
“The best ability is availability,” Aird said, “We need kids able to play.”
The Hoosiers will be faced with further difficulties leading up to their first official game Jan. 22. Typically, the preseason consists of approximately 12 matches, allowing the team to get a realistic evaluation of where they stand before the season actually begins, and adapt its playbook as necessary.
Additionally, with seniors Bayli Lebo and Kamryn Malloy opting out, and the recent shoulder surgery for junior Kari Zumach, the team will largely be made up of underclassmen.
Despite the loss of three key players from a year ago, Aird isn’t concerned.
“We have enough pieces where we should be able to be competitive,” Aird said. “We’re going to have a blast.”