Indiana volleyball finished its conference play with a 4-16 record after dropping matches against Purdue and Wisconsin on the road last weekend.
“It's not like this was a bad volleyball team, we were just behind how good the conference was, and that's what was important for us to keep our sights on,” head coach Steve Aird said.
After an early afternoon Thanksgiving meal at Assembly Hall, the team traveled to Purdue, which earned the sixth seed in the NCAA Tournament, to play Friday night. Indiana dropped the match in four sets with scores of 25-13, 25-21, 25-14 and 25-20.
Don Shondell, Purdue head coach Dave Shondell’s father, died Nov. 23. Aird said Don Shondell was the guy who really started volleyball in the region, starting the program at Ball State. The Friday matchup was also Purdue’s senior night at home.
“It was a really emotional night for Purdue,” Aird said. “That being said I thought we played really well and competed. I think in that environment with all of those kinds of things up against us, I thought we performed and completed and played the game the right way which was cool. I thought it was another step in the right direction.”
After the Purdue game Indiana volleyball had a quick turnaround to get to Wisconsin to play at its senior night. Indiana fell to Wisconsin in three sets with scores of 25-14, 25-9 and 15-15.
“They won the Big Ten and are the best team in the conference and they pretty much handled us quite easily,” Aird said. “They've done that with a lot of teams this year so I didn't think it was a bad performance as much as they are just well ahead of where we are right now.”
Aird said the team spent much more time preparing for Purdue and very little on Wisconsin because of the busy travel schedule and quick turnaround.
Despite the result, Aird said he had a lot of respect for his players because they didn’t give up and played hard until the final whistle. He said it’s easy for players to give up when the team isn't having a successful season, but he said his players did the opposite.
“You're hoping to compete, you're hoping to learn, and you're hoping to grow. The testament to the group is how hard we played down the stretch,” Aird said.
Aird said it’s important to talk about the challenges this year presented in general. Indiana volleyball’s first full recruiting class was the 2020 class, who didn’t get a chance to play until 2021. This class had two top-ranked players leave due to homesickness and COVID related issues.
After this tough start, the team then brought in two transfers before preseason began. Junior middle blocker Kaley Rammelsberg came from High Point and junior defensive specialist Paula Cerame came from Florida.
“In the preseason we played five teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament which is pretty gnarly,” Aird said. “We finished .500 in the preseason and that was having Kaley and Kari hurt for multiple matches.”
Indiana had three players rated in the top 10 in Big Ten categories this year. Rammelberg was eighth in hitting percentage, Cerame was eighth in digs, and freshman setter Camryn Haworth was fifth in aces.
“All of those kids are returning along with Morgan and Sav and Mady, so the core of the group I think is coming back and I feel pretty good about it,” Aird said.
Indiana has Illinois' top recruit joining the team in 2022, and has room to add to the roster still, which Aird said he is excited about. In addition to adding to the team, Indiana will travel to Europe for 11 days this spring. The team will play in Prague and Mulan, facing some of the top European teams.
The team will report back and start training again in late January. Aird said the team is allowed to train for 10 days before it leaves for Europe. The Hoosiers plan to train in the spring, play in a couple tournaments and then gear up for the flight to Prague in late May.
“It's being patient, keep bringing in new recruits, keep training the kids that we have,” Aird said. “That would kind of be the trajectory from now until we start in August. That's really the game plan that we have. Have a positive spring, a really strong summer and get ready to go in 2022.”