IU volleyball gives fanbase a win over UK

A native of Toronto, there are just some things Indiana volleyball coach Steve Aird has had to learn.

The rivalry with Purdue he quickly understood, just because of its in-state nature. But when his Hoosiers went south and bested No. 15 Kentucky, 3-2, he wasn’t quite prepared for the explosion of notifications on his cell phone.

“There are a lot of people in this state that have some strong feelings about a variety of things that I have yet to fully understand,” Aird said. “Maybe it’s a blessing, maybe it’s a curse, but it’s the truth.”

On a Saturday when the football team was badly beaten by No. 6 Ohio State, two other IU programs gave the Hoosier faithful something to smile about. That same day, there was a double-dose of wins at Kentucky.

The IU women’s soccer team traveled to Lexington and bested the Wildcats, 1-0. For volleyball, Kentucky was the last of three weekend matches in a non-air-conditioned Memorial Coliseum. After Friday’s victories over Florida Gulf Coast and Cleveland State, Saturday’s match was moved from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m. to not conflict with Florida-Kentucky football.

The conditions weren’t ideal, especially after a 25-12 loss in the third set put the Hoosiers down 2-1. But Aird placed the Wildcats on the schedule for a reason: not because of a rivalry, but because they are a good program.

“Game 3 Kentucky, it looked like a volleyball video, like a coaching video of how to do things perfectly. They were fantastic,” Aird said. “The one thing about our sport, instead of basketball or football, if you get run in a game, game’s over, it’s terminal, and the score is 0-0.

“I think the best thing we did is we didn’t quit, we didn’t pout. We just said ‘Hey, they are a really good team.’ I think they are a team that’s going to end up winning the SEC, Final Four good. I said that going into it.”

Aird admitted Monday he’s “an emotional cat,” and he probably couldn’t repeat some of the things he said to his team between the third and fourth sets. But whatever he said, it worked.

IU won 25-20 and 15-11 in the comeback. Sophomore Breana Edwards led the charge with 20 kills on the afternoon. Aird’s phone was “on fire” for most of the day on Sunday.

It was a big win for a coach in his second season, and it was the program’s first victory over Kentucky since 1996. But Aird doesn’t want to overstate its significance. He was once an assistant coach at Penn State, an elite program that doesn’t aim for wins in Week 3 alone. They aim for championships.

IU (8-2) received 13 votes to be ranked in the latest volleyball coaches poll, but Aird doesn’t believe his team deserves to be in a top 25 yet.

“Part of our conversation today with the team is going to be about our goal to beat Kentuckys in Week 15, 16, toward the end of the year, not in Week 3,” Aird said Monday. “There is a lot of season left. It’s a huge mistake to get too confident too early.”

Aird and his athletes can at least hope Saturday’s victory is a sign of continued progress. The Hoosiers went from 1-19 in Big Ten play two seasons ago to 7-13 last year. Pull out a few more wins in conference play, and the Hoosiers could be knocking on the door of an NCAA tournament berth.

IU will get a chance to see where it stacks up in the conference soon enough. After three weekend matches in Tampa, Fla., the Hoosiers will open their Big Ten slate with road matches at No. 7 Minnesota and No. 9 Wisconsin.

“We are not top 10 good, we are not top 15 good,” Aird said. “I think we are a good volleyball team but we have a whole bunch of stuff we gotta cross off before we can play those teams and start to get cocky with anything.”

Don’t expect the Canadian-born coach to spend much additional time thinking about the IU-Kentucky rivalry. Or even Purdue.

“I spend none of my time thinking about Purdue,” Aird said. “I’m sure they do what they do and that’s great. Kentucky, their volleyball program, much like Purdue’s, has been great. We spend a lot of our time worrying about us and trying to get better and we don’t talk about other programs.”

One comment

  1. Wife and I go down to Bloomington a couple of weekends every year to watch IU volleyball. Our new coach who came aboard last year is getting our program turned around to be able to compete in the toughest volleyball conference in the country. The new volleyball arena is fantastic and we were rewarded with a very nice win over Yale that day. Just sayin, if you haven’t seen our team you are missing something! College volleyball is a terrific sport and our team is improving by leaps and bounds. There is no doubt in my mind that IU volleyball will be a program to recon with in the present and the future. The Big10 is the best volleyball conference in the country as I stated earlier and we slowly but surely will be a factor in the league. If you have never seen college volleyball, you would not believe the athleticism of these girls! You need to get out and watch our IU program in action. Go Hoosiers!!

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