Indiana volleyball will face No. 9 Nebraska and No. 12 Minnesota this week as the third and fourth consecutive matches on the road.
Indiana will take on Nebraska at 9 p.m. Wednesday night in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are currently 6-0 in conference play and 12-3 overall. Indiana will play Minnesota at 3 p.m. Sunday in Minneapolis. The Golden Gophers are 4-2 in conference play and 9-5 overall.
Head coach Steve Aird said most of the team has never made the trip to play Nebraska or Minnesota.
“You become better over time because you have the experience of traveling in the Big Ten and we don't have anyone who's done that so it should be unique,” Aird said.
Aird said it’s difficult to find enough time to prepare with so much travel. The team had practice Monday, will fly to Nebraska on Tuesday and get back to Indiana late Wednesday night. Indiana will have to have a light day Thursday followed by practice Friday before flying to Minnesota on Saturday.
“It's a challenge with a young team to try to have time to teach, and then have time to recover, and then shift focus,” Aird said. “But, it’s also what makes the conference great. It's why you want to be in the conference because of the challenge.”
Four of Indiana’s last seven matches have been against top-15 teams. Aird said the team needs to be really competitive, and if it doesn’t control the ball and have a better first touch, it’s in real trouble.
He said the key to facing skilled opponents is playing hard, so where the Hoosiers could lack in talent or skill, they will make up for it with their will.
“It's really about our ability to pass and our ability to put pressure on teams from the service line and playing hard and competing hard,” Aird said. “That's what we talk about a lot is our ability to really compete and play hard.”
Indiana has lost 19-straight matches with Nebraska dating back to 1988, including two 3-0 losses last season. Indiana’s only win against Nebraska came in 1978, the first matchup between the two teams.
Minnesota has seen similar success against Indiana and is on a nine-match winning streak dating back to 2014. Indiana has won against Minnesota four times since 2000.
Aird said playing top-10 teams on the road is more daunting than at home, where they are more comfortable with the arena, ball and fans. Because of this, he is working to have crowds and student sections in Bloomington.
Aird said playing in the Big Ten on the road is challenging, and Nebraska has a distinctive venue that his young players will be presented with.
“Experience is something you get after you needed it,” Aird said. “I think a lot of it is just about playing the matches and getting the kids experience and being less concerned about the result and more concerned about the process.”