Indiana volleyball will take on No. 25 Illinois at 7 p.m. Friday in Champaign, Illinois, and No. 11 Nebraska at 2 p.m. Sunday in Wilkinson Hall.
Indiana stands 3-11 in conference play and is 9-17 overall going into the weekend. Indiana dropped its last two matches in four sets against Iowa and Northwestern on the road. Head coach Steve Aird said he thought there was an opportunity to win both of those matches.
After being on the road, Aird said the team trained heavily on Monday and Tuesday. The Hoosiers will practice in Illinois on Thursday before competing on Friday night, then they will train at home on Saturday during the Indiana football game against Rutgers to prepare for Nebraska on Sunday.
“I think we've just gotta be a little bit more clean and a little bit more low error,” Aird said at a press conference Wednesday. “We've got to be better with serve and pass, and then we need someone to make some plays kind of in the red zone in crunch time when it's 22 all or 23 all.”
Illinois is 8-6 in the conference and 16-9 overall, most recently losing to No. 11 Minnesota in three sets on Nov. 6.
Of Indiana’s six matches left this season, two are against Illinois. Aird said Illinois is a well-coached and well-disciplined team with a great environment, which will be a test for the Hoosiers.
“As much as we only have six matches left, I think practice and training really matter because we're still so young,” Aird said. “Every opportunity we can get to play is a huge deal to see if we can continue to develop and compete.”
Nebraska is currently 11-3 in the conference, only having lost to No. 7 Ohio State, No. 11 Minnesota and No. 3 Wisconsin. Indiana lost in three sets in its last matchup with Nebraska on October 13. Aird said the team has to limit its errors against a very consistent Nebraska team.
“When we played there I thought we played pretty well for chunks,” Aird said. “The best way I can describe it is that you can be in a game with them through 10 points, 12 points, 15 points, and then the really good teams just kind of strangle you.”
Aird said Nebraska senior setter Nicklin Hames does a great job running offense and senior Lauren Stivrons is one of the better middle blockers in the country. Aird said because of the team's experience, it is very good offensively and has a very low error rate.
“The thing about Nebraska is they’ve got a whole bunch of fifth-year seniors that came back,” Aird said. “It's one of those programs that has a lot of kids that could be playing professionally that came back to play college. They’ve got a chance to win the Big Ten, and I think they’re in a different tax bracket right now than we are.”
Indiana sophomore Grae Gosnell had 11 kills against Northwestern and could continue to see more playing time in this weekend's matchups.
Aird said Gosnell has been good in training over the past several weeks and is putting in extra work. He said Gosnell brought energy and played great when the team got stale against Northwestern, which will lead to more opportunities down the road.
“She's no stranger to getting kills,” Aird said. “She set the state record at South Carolina for kills and she's a good offensive player. I think there’s lots of room to grow in the rest of her game but for me it was an energy switch.”
As for Indiana middle blockers, Aird said he is looking for at least three of his five players to step up and be consistent.
Aird said senior Breana Edwards had been good most often, freshman Mady Seris and sophomore Morgan Geddes are young and still high error and senior Kari Zumach has had a rough stretch of matches but is hopeful she will come out of it. Gosnell will also be thrown into the mix.
“I think it’s been a revolving door,” Aird said. “We’re competing in practice every day to kind of see who gets the opportunity to do it. I’ll have a fairly quick trigger because I want to give kids opportunities and if we struggle or need to change systems we’ll do that. I just want to try to be as competitive as we can be for the last six matches.”
Both of Indiana’s matches this weekend will be broadcast on BTN Plus.