The air was filled with anticipation this past Friday as the crowd filed in to watch the Indiana volleyball team begin its 2022 season. The Hoosiers started off their season 2-1 as the host university of a three-match invitational.
In the first match against Indiana State University, Indiana sailed through the first set and won 25-11. The second set was a tight battle, as the Hoosiers and Sycamores were tied at 18 apiece. Indiana State ended the set by hitting the ball out of bounds, Indiana to win 25-23.
Indiana coasted through the third set with help from sophomore outside hitter Maddy Saris, who delivered a kill off an assist from senior defensive specialist Paula Cerame to end the game 25-20.
Freshman right side hitter Melisa Ilter, who said in the post-game press conference how excited she is to be in Indiana, scored the first point of the season and continued to impress with three kills in the first match. Ilter is from Bursa, Turkey, and arrived in Bloomington three weeks ago to join the team for preseason workouts.
After the sweep against the Sycamores, the Hoosiers reflected in the post game press conference on their successful season opener and the energy brought by the student section and the crowd.
“I thought it was awesome and something I have been really excited about as we continue to build,” head coach Steve Aird said.
In May, the Indiana Daily Student published an investigation regarding Indiana volleyball head coach Steve Aird. The investigation’s allegations stem from interviews with six women who used to play for Aird — four of which at Indiana. They alleged the IU program under Aird is built around punishment and dismissiveness of mental abuse.
On Saturday, Aird addressed questions on the program for the first time since the article ran. In two separate statements to the IDS, Indiana Athletics has stated new changes to the program were implemented with Aird’s cooperation. Aird said the changes have been slight in staffing and training.
“The hard part about building programs, and this is my third, is every program is unique and every program is different,” Aird said. “I wouldn’t say there were any dramatic changes. I think the group’s in a great place. I thought it was really positive.”
Aird also said he’s been a long time proponent of mental health, and Indiana is one of the best universities in terms of taking care of athletes’ mental health.
[Related: ‘The program is doomed’: Players say Indiana volleyball coach Steve Aird created a culture of fear]
Junior middle blocker Savannah Kjolhede, who had a hitting percentage of .385, said the success of Friday night’s win against Indiana State can be attributed to the team’s hard work in the offseason.
“Ever since we got our new coaching staff and spring has started, that is all we have been working towards,” Kjolhede said. “Even our crimson and cream scrimmage was getting ready for this. It all just paid off tonight.”
In the second game Saturday morning against Chicago State University, the Hooisers were looking for revenge, as Indiana lost to Chicago State in three sets in 2021.
Indiana began the first set slowly and was down 6-9 early. With the help of freshman outside hitter Candela Alonso-Cordelles and her back-to-back kills, Indiana went on a 4-0 run to take the lead.
The Hoosiers continued to fight and ended the first set on a 4-2 run to secure the 25-19 win. The second set was close, but an assist from sophomore setter Camryn Haworth on the final two kills led to a 25-23 win.
Late in the third set, Indiana struggled to maintain a leadas they were down 19-20. The Hoosiers found their rhythm at the end, though, and went on a 5-3 run to win the set 25-23.
The final match of the weekend tipped off at 7 p.m. Saturday against Jacksonville State University. Indiana was competitive throughout the match but was unable to win a set.
The Gamecocks closed out two tight sets 25-21 and 26-24, and they took a commanding 25-16 win in the last set to close out the match. The Hoosiers still saw a bright spot in the loss, though, as Saris achieved a career-high 18 kills.
Despite Indiana ending the weekend in a loss, Aird was optimistic about the team’s performance.
“Obviously disappointed but not disappointed being 2-1,” Aird said. “I think if you go 2-1 every preseason game, you are in a pretty good spot for the Big Ten.”
Indiana will travel next weekend to Corpus Christi, Texas, to compete in the Islanders Classic against
Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi, Southern Methodist University and Sam Houston State University at 5 p.m. Eastern time.