No one said this would be easy.
IU Volleyball head coach Steve Aird knew he had a more talented roster in 2019 vs. his initial group in Bloomington the year prior.
But he also knew there would be bumps in the road.
“I told you guys a couple years ago there is going to pain in the process,” Aird said on a recent video conference.
On paper, IU took a step back in 2019. The Hoosiers (14-19, 3-17) won two less games overall and four less games in the Big Ten year-over-year.
But Aird also knew this — he inherited a marathon, not a sprint.
IU volleyball went 1-19 in the Big Ten the year before Aird arrived. The program has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2010.
With four of the top seven teams in the final coaches poll hailing from the Big Ten, ascending the conference hierarchy is both steep and treacherous.
Aird is attempting to turn around a ship, and there will be ebbs and flows along the way.
But a look out further onto the horizon suggests that the now third year head coach is charting the proper course.
Of course the foundation of any strong program is talent, and one early marker of future success in Bloomington is Indiana’s best-ever No. 15 ranked recruiting class of 2020.
“When I took the job, I thought Indiana volleyball had a rightful place among the nation’s elite,” Aird said. “I just did. If we worked hard and got the support that the department said they would provide, we would get to the point where we could recruit some of the nation’s best and it would be fun.”
Even that strong class won’t flip a switch.
Not in the Big Ten.
“There are programs in the Big Ten that have done this (top-15 recruiting classes) 30 and 40 years in a row,” Aird said.
Instead, going into his third season at the helm, Aird views his 2020 class as more of the starting point, or one of the early indicators of the elite program that he wants to build at IU.
“I know that we’re going to be in the process stacking these classes back-to-back-back over the next few years,” Aird says. “We’re recruiting some really impressive kids.”
Aird was a two-time NCAA championship winning assistant at Penn State. He knows what an elite program should look like, and recruits are no doubt drawn to that pedigree.
Another major attraction that is helping IU on the recruiting front is the newly constructed Wilkinson Hall.
Sitting at the southeast corner of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, the new home of the volleyball program proved to be a big draw for fans in its initial season.
IU averaged a 15th best in the nation 1,809 fans a match in 2019, more than double the best years at its old home, the University Gym.
“To be 15th in the country in attendance is a massive step forward,” Aird said.
Aird has the facilities and he has established a pipeline for talent.
Consider that the foundation.
Now comes the hard part.
Seven Big Ten squads reached the NCAA Tournament in 2019. Two reached the Final Four.
It has been that way forever at the top of the league.
And that is exactly the way Aird wants it.
“We know how good the Big Ten is and we have so much respect for it. We know it will be a difficult climb, but that energizes us,” he said.
What might success look like in 2020?
“Every year you should be able to beat the team from the year before.”
With a fresh crop of high level talent coming in the door, game on.
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