Hoosier volleyball hoping new outlook, experience leads to successful season

Jazzmine McDonald’s tweet was short and succinct, but it said everything Indiana volleyball coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan wanted to see.

“Bloomington — Connecticut #BusinessTrip,” McDonald wrote on Twitter prior to the Hoosiers’ departure for their season-opening run at the UConn Classic this weekend. The trip to Storrs, Conn. is not for mere fun and pleasure. IU is there to work.

The fact that IU players like McDonald recognize it as such is among the many reasons Dunbar-Kruzan is excited for the upcoming season, which begins Friday against Central Connecticut State at 5 p.m.

“Those little things mean a lot,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “They’re looking at it in a different way. They’re not saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to UConn. This will be a fun trip.’ They’re looking at it as ‘We need to get three wins and we need to do our job.” You feel a different attitude in that way. It’s important to them and they’re putting in the work to show it’s important.”

Since fall practice began for the volleyball program on Aug. 9, Dunbar-Kruzan says she’s sensed a different feeling in the gym. She sees a team that’s ready and determined to change course after finishing 9-22, including a 1-19 mark in the ever-tough Big Ten.

Last year’s IU roster featured 11 freshman and sophomores. This year, that youth is developing into something Dunbar-Kruzan hopes to be closer to a finished product. Simply put, Dunbar-Kruzan and her coaching staff haven’t had to dedicate as much time easing players into volleyball at the Big Ten level. This summer, they’ve spent more time actually coaching.

“They’ve grown up emotionally as well as physically,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “It’s a lot different. They’re much more accountable to themselves and each other. Last year, because of our youth, it was so much about trying to get them to put the effort in and getting them to talk and do these things. Now, they’re much more accountable doing those things, and it releases us to do more coaching.”

One example of player development is Megan Tallman. The sophomore setter initially struggled to make the transition to Big Ten volleyball last year, but Dunbar-Kruzan says something has clicked since the end of the season. Tallman is watching more film, working harder.

Courtney Harnish, a member of the team’s leadership council, also sees how things are changing. She was in the gym all summer watching the team develop both its skills on the floor and its chemistry off it.

Harnish, a defensive specialist, sees how her teammates are taking more pride in defense than they have in previous years. She echoes her coach about player accountability in the locker room and on the floor. With everything she’s seen, by all indications, she’s hopeful it all leads to something meaningful when IU lines up for the first serve of the season Friday evening.

This summer, we focused a lot more on volleyball and getting better at volleyball,” Harnish said. “Normally we get in shape, run, condition and lift. But this summer we focused on getting better. It’s really shown. We came into the preseason more prepared than ever.”