Volleyball Hoosiers looking for weekend split in rivalry rematch

The value of a weekend split is not lost on Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan’s Hoosiers. It’s why the Indiana volleyball team isn’t feeling beaten down after Wednesday’s loss at Purdue.

IU is aiming for a split or better each weekend of this year’s season. The Hoosiers pulled it off two weeks ago by following a loss to Michigan State with a win over Michigan. They did themselves one better last week with an east coast sweep at Maryland and Rutgers.

And with a rivalry rematch with the Boilermakers looming on Saturday at 7 at University Gym, Indiana is looking to continue the trend.

The Hoosiers (12-5, 3-2 Big Ten) are off to their best start in conference play since 1998. For context, at this same point last fall, IU was 8-9 with an 0-6 mark in league play. For Indiana, it’s about breaking down the schedule into “mini seasons,” taking each week or weekend as a whole and pushing to win at least one match in the always tough Big Ten.

“If you go 10-10 in the conference, you’re a shoe-in for the NCAA Tournament,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “You have to think about those splits, then every once in a while you get that bonus match, like the Rutgers, Maryland (weekend). So now we went up one. If you go down two, you gotta find a way to get back.”

Heavy on youth this season, the Hoosiers aren’t lost on experience. In the past, those young players have been given opportunities to play and Indiana is seeing the rewards of that faith come to the forefront this season. Sophomores Megan Tallman and Taylor Lebo are off to outstanding starts, building roles to last the next few seasons in Bloomington.

Tallman ranks 20th in the NCAA with 726 assists this season, which have already surpassed her 689 from last year. Lebo leads the Hoosiers with 196 kills and is sixth in the NCAA with 35 service aces, making a smooth transition from defensive specialist to outside hitter.

“That youth has definitely stepped up,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “They have the right mentality, too. It’s not just a physical thing. If you don’t have the right mentality in this conference, it makes it really tough for you. I think they’re embracing that winning, the change in culture and everything that we’re trying to preach to them, they’re preaching back. They’re eating it up.”

IU’s block defense has also improved this season. Junior middle blocker Awele Nwaeze recently earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording nine blocks in each match against the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins last weekend.

A film study of Wednesday’s three-set loss (25-22, 25-21, 25-14) to the Boilers revealed some areas Dunbar-Kruzan wants to fix heading into Saturday’s rematch. They’ll be plenty motivated for a turnaround, too, with the program celebrating its 40 anniversary prior to the match.

Over 75 players are expected to attend a banquet Saturday morning that will include a speech by Ann Lawver, the first coach in program history. Fans who arrive early to University Gym can receive a limited edition 40-year poster and a commemorative lapel pin.

“I’m really excited about the 40 years on Saturday,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “How inspiring for our players to hear from coaches and players from every decade here at Indiana and to be in attendance at the match. We’ve talked to them a lot about being caretakers for the program and (recognizing) the people that come before them.”