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Jon Blau | Bloomington Herald-Times | August 21, 2019

Indiana volleyball hopes to make waves in crowded Big Ten

Revisit Stanford women's volleyball national championship run

In the Big Ten, it would be foolhardy for Indiana volleyball to expect too much too soon.

It's a conference that hosts two programs, Penn State and Nebraska, that have won nine out of the last 13 NCAA titles. The Cornhuskers could have made it 10 out of 13 if they didn't fall 3-2 to Stanford last season.

But if the Hoosiers can't be the beast of the Big Ten in one sense, they can take on that identity in another. They can be "hairy" to play, as senior outside hitter Kendall Beerman put it.

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"We are not going to be the most physical team in the Big Ten. We want to be relentless," Beerman said. "We want to never give up. Everyone goes to the floor for balls, stuff like that. Just a pain in the butt to play."

If the conference is full of giants, the Hoosiers can at least be a thorn in everyone's side. In time, the program under second-year coach Steve Aird hopes to be even more than that.

IU has made significant leaps in Aird's short time as coach. The season before his arrival from Maryland, the Hoosiers went 1-19 in Big Ten contests. That record jumped to 7-13 in Aird's first season at the helm.

Now the program is debuting a brand new arena, Wilkinson Hall, with a very much remade roster. Nine returners, including Beerman, are joined by nine newcomers, adding much-needed depth to the roster. And some of those newcomers should have names familiar to the Hoosier faithful.

Senior outside hitter Megan Sloan, a transfer from Louisville, is the daughter of Brian, who was a member of the 1987 IU men's basketball national championship team. Her grandfather is Jerry, the longtime coach of the Utah Jazz. Her brother, Grant, is on IU's baseball team.

The 6-foot-1 Indianapolis Cathedral alum played basketball until seventh grade, but it just wasn't for her. What was for her was competition, because she comes from a pretty competitive family. That would certainly make her the type to embrace playing in the Big Ten.

"The Big Ten is the best conference in the country for volleyball," Sloan said. "I've always wanted to play in the Big Ten. I thought coming to IU was an opportunity to do that."

IU's roster is full of connections to the university's past. Sophie Oliphant, a freshman defensive specialist, is the daughter of another 1987 title team member, Jeff Oliphant.

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Another freshman, setter Emily Fitzner, is the sister of former IU basketball grad transfer Evan Fitzner. She was initially recruited to play at Southern California but a coaching change there -- and the appeal of playing for Aird in Bloomington -- made the Hoosiers an attractive option.

So too did playing in the Big Ten.

"I think just the culture and everything, I wanted to get out of California for a little bit and play in the Big Ten, with and against some of the best girls in the nation," Fitzner said.

Aird knows what the conference is all about, not only from his four years at Maryland but as an alum and former assistant at Penn State. In his second year at IU, he's just trying to continue to build, bit by bit.

The Hoosiers' $17 million multipurpose arena was one addition. Adding depth to the roster was another key, allowing the Hoosiers to practice with more intensity. He also went and improved IU's non-conference slate, bringing in Power 5 programs like Oregon State, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.

"We talk a lot about the process. I'm a process guy. I just think, again, cliche, but we got to get 1 percent better every day," Aird said. "I can't control how good the conference is. I can't control how good some of the teams in the Big Ten are. We can certainly control what we do and the lineup we put out there."

Aird won't go as far to set expectations in terms of wins and losses. But he sees the Hoosiers building toward something.

"We're going to be a pain to play," Aird said. "We're going to be competitive. We're physical. We do a lot of things at a pretty good level.

"I'm not foolish. I know how good the conference is, how tough the schedule is. But I like my team."

This article is written by Jon Blau The Herald-Times from Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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