IU volleyball will face No. 8 Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania, this weekend. Penn State is 2-2 on the season, and IU is 2-6 after losing two matches to No. 1 Wisconsin last weekend.
“We’re playing top ten teams three weeks in a row and these teams compete,” sophomore defensive specialist Haley Armstrong said Wednesday. “We have a great opportunity to go out there and be gritty, be really resilient.”
The Hoosiers have the ability to compete with top ten teams, as shown in their matchup against Wisconsin where they came within a few points of winning multiple sets.
In a post-game press conference, head coach Steve Aird and his players stressed the need to keep their energy and consistency up — something they transferred into practices this week.
“We’ve done a lot of super intense, high energy practices leading into Penn State,” Armstrong said. “Penn State is one of those teams that will keep the ball up.”
Penn State is ranked sixth in the Big Ten in hitting percentage with .243, compared to IU at 13th with .151. The Nittany Lions also average about 12 or 13 kills per set.
The Hoosiers have consistently displayed their defensive skills against good offenses, and are fourth in the conference with 2.52 blocks per set. Freshman Leyla Blackwell leads the team and is third in the conference with 37 blocks.
“I love my squad. I think we’ve got a chance to be really competitive,” Aird said. “I thought we pushed Nebraska, we pushed Wisconsin. We’re finding out a lot about ourselves and we’re getting better each week.”
Aird cited setting and hitting as being skills to improve after IU’s losses to Wisconsin. Tommi Stockham, with 94 kills on the season, only recorded eleven kills in six sets. Her average is 3.24 kills per set.
“Sometimes you’re battling whether you want to stay fresh or you want to teach,” Aird said. “This whole spring season for me, we’re going to train right through it. It’s about gaining experience and setting standards.”
Aird said he doesn’t want to push his young team too much too quickly, instead wanting to keep their spirits up and make sure they enjoy the process. Training hard but staying positive is key for his team, Aird said.
“I want to make sure they understand that it’s close and they have plenty of time to develop into one of the better teams in the country,” Aird said. “The last thing they need is an environment which isn’t positive and nurturing and growing.”
Aird is returning to his second home — he played men’s volleyball for four years at Penn State and helped lead the women’s volleyball team to NCAA championships in 2007 and 2013 as an assistant to head coach Russell Rose.
“I spent a decade of my life there,” Aird said. “It’s always a great privilege to play against what I consider to be my mentor. He’s — in my mind — the best to ever do it.”