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INDIANA UNIVERSITY VOLLEYBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 13, 2019
STEVE AIRD: Good afternoon. Thanks for coming. Good to see everyone. Welcome to Wilkinson Hall. Hopefully as we get through this a little bit we'll be able to walk around, show you guys some stuff.
Obviously grateful to be here. That's probably where I want to start. Not just the generosity of Jay Wilkinson and his family to be able to put us in a pretty unbelievable arena. That speaks volumes I think about the commitment of the athletic department, the school, to this sport and the culture we're trying to build, the program we're trying to build. Just a phenomenal building. I hope you get the chance to be around here and spend some time.
Really interesting year, obviously for me going into year two. Nine new bodies, nine returning bodies. Very, very different look this year when it comes to what IU volleyball is going to look like.
One of the biggest challenges for me, especially early, something on the macro that is interesting, football has been practicing for I don't know how many days, 10 or 12 days. Men's and women's basketball get to spend time with their teams in the summer. For us, we have two and a half weeks to prepare for our first match after being away from them for three or four months.
For us it's really like a big Lego set. Get in the gym, see what these kids can do, especially some of the freshmen, the transfers, see what they're capable of doing, start to formulate lineups and put some stuff together. We don't have the luxury of spending a bunch of time on development of skills because we have to get into a lineup, figure that out.
For the most part a really cool mix of returning players and new players. A very veteran team where we have six or seven seniors on the roster. This is their last opportunity to kind of make a run through the Big Ten. Then a couple key positions we'll have some youth, very talented kids, but young, it will be their first trip around.
Staff is the same as last year. We're adding a technical director that we're working on right now who will be in charge of film and video, helping us with recruiting.
I watched the press conference a year ago when Archie was going into year two with basketball. He just said it was great to kind of know what's going on, where to go, have his feet underneath him.
At the time I was insanely jealous because I felt like I was in a tornado of things going on. Now my kids are in school, we found a place to live. Staff and I have had a year under our belt. We are in a new building. It feels like home. I'm not a very calm human being, but I feel a lot more calm than I was a calendar year ago.
With that we're excited about the year, excited about the building. I'll open it up for some questions.
Q. (Question about the feeling about the team.)
STEVE AIRD: Pretty good. I was laughing with my wife last night that I just would say clichÃ©, clichÃ©, clichÃ©, moving on.
It's funny, the one thing I will say about this group is their energy is great. I really like my team. I know it sounds funny, but there's some years where you might have some talent...
This might be my 21st training camp. I think I've been a coach on a staff for 16 or 17 training camps, then four as player when I played at Penn State. Over half my life I've been doing this.
Talent-wise, we'll see. I think it will all play out. I think we have a nice team. I really like them. I like their energy. They're good kids. We haven't had to whip the horse at all. They're happy to be here. They have big smiles, they play hard and compete.
Implementing the stuff we'll do will take some time. I just like seeing them every day. I enjoy them.
Q. (Question about only two weeks to prepare for pre-season games.)
STEVE AIRD: It's certainly challenging, but it's challenging for the other programs as well. Traditionally this program at Indiana has played a pre-season that's allowed them maybe to get some more wins and play some teams where they might have had an opportunity or better opportunity to win.
I just think it's important that we start playing really good programs, period. I think the goal for me is to become good. I know I've said that before, it sounds simple. But you want to be able to play really good programs, you want to be able to recruit really good kids, not hope. Hope for me is not a strategy. I don't hope to win. We have to get good enough to win.
If you're going to play in the nation's best conference, you don't want to duck people. I think this year we'll play in the pre-season one of the toughest pre-seasons in the history of this program. We are going to play teams that if we don't play well will beat us up pretty good.
The first two weekends we get to play at home. Last year we were on the road for all pre-season weekends. That was a challenge for so many reasons. To be at home the first two weeks is great. Then we'll go down to Kentucky and play Kentucky. I think they could be Final Four good this year. We'll travel the last weekend, get down to South Florida, get the team on a plane so we have that feeling, as well.
The pre-season, we're going to need to be ready to go in a few weeks, that's for sure.
Q. Going into year two, how much are you still trying to implement your style?
STEVE AIRD: It's come a long way. I had a pretty good set of things I wanted to try to accomplish in the first 16 months, all right? Obviously culture is something we talk about all the time, being a good teammate, being grateful, doing things the right way, learning how we play Indiana volleyball.
We wanted to have some impact in the community and bring some energy, get people excited about it. Attendance went up 600% last year. Student section went crazy. I think that's going to continue. That's something that we're into and we're proud of.
We've recruited really well. My staff is very, very good. They work really hard. We've brought in some transfers that will play and they'll be impact kids right away. Physical, talented veteran kids that I think will make the lineup look a lot different than a year ago.
We crossed off a lot of the big rocks I think in the first 16 months. We're in a position now I feel pretty good about where we're at. I think we're a little ahead of where I thought we'd be in year two.
Again, we could be exceptional as a volleyball team and still struggle in the conference because the conference is that good. People who know the conference and understand what we're getting into understand that. So we're just going to try to control what we can control, get better every day.
Recruiting has gone great. The next few years we have some elite kids coming in. We're excited about them. This is a good opportunity over the next four months to do some pretty good stuff.
Q. How different is it, the culture, the team, building the team, this building?
STEVE AIRD: I think the first thing you notice when you come into this building is that it's impressive. It's got Olympic-style courts. The lighting is great. All the bells and whistles are pretty exceptional. You feel good coming to work. As a student-athlete you get excited every day to come to the building.
There were times last year where it was hard for the kids to park, get in. Trying to stay with a routine, get into the gym and do what we're doing was a challenge.
There's been a rejuvenated -- maybe not rejuvenated, but the level of energy has been really, really high through the summer and then into training camp. I think kids are just excited. It's a brand-new car, man. Brand-new restaurant. They're excited to come every single day. Still has the new car smell. They're excited to be here.
Right across the street is where the freshmen live. It's an easy walk right to the football stadium that has -- they spent 50 million plus on nutrition and sports medicine. It is one-stop shopping once you get over here. For a student-athlete it's so convenient, so easy.
Not just that, but if you're a fan, you can park. Concessions are going to be great. The seats are awesome. The sight lines are great. The video boards are incredible. The whole experience of being over here, there really isn't any comparison from what it was a year ago.
Q. (Question about the impact of the building on recruiting.)
STEVE AIRD: The recruiting side of it, that's a popular question and a good question that people ask. Will it help recruiting? Obviously it will.
I think the nature of what we do in our sport, we have our eyes on seventh and eighth grade kids in the state. It will matter. It's just going to matter in years.
The nature of our sport is we recruit awfully young. They passed some legislation now, so we can't commit kids till junior year, have them on visits junior year.
If you're a volleyball player in the state of Indiana, you're a young kid sniffing us out, trying to take a look at it, when you come to a match, you'll know it's as good as it gets in the country as a place to play.
It not only mattered short-term, it mattered with our transfers when we brought them in. This is the direction we're headed. Long-term I think it's going to get better. It's a goal. It's a stated goal. I think it should be a stated goal if you're a coach at this place.
You want the best kids in this state. You want the kids in Indiana that want to come here. You want them to know that the school cares about the sport. It's in the best conference in the country. It's certainly a stated goal, there's no question.
Q. (Question about family ties.)
STEVE AIRD: I think we joke about that a lot. We have a pretty good starting five former dad basketball players. Forget about the Indiana and the Oliphants of the world. Megan Sloan's father played here. Emily Fitzner's dad played basketball at Stanford. Ashley Zulauf's dad played at Michigan State for Judd.
Part of this is this. They have competitive daughters, but they're better human beings and better families. These are just good kids, man. They know how to work. They come in every day. Megan Sloan is a great example. She's an Indiana kid. Started her career at Louisville, transferred back here. I think she always wanted to come to Indiana. She really wants to play in Indiana colors. I think the family is going to be thrilled to see her represent the school and be here. Her brother plays baseball here.
There's a lot of that in the state. I'm learning 16 or 18 months into this. There's a lot of pride in this place. Amazing school, amazing campus. Our job as a staff and as a program is to get people fired up about volleyball.
Q. (No microphone.)
STEVE AIRD: Kendall again is a fifth-year senior coming off her second ACL. Suffered an injury last year when we played at home early in the season. We had gotten off to a pretty good start. At one point she might have been third in the conference in kills. Pretty good athlete. Obviously with a huge arm, lots of talent.
She says she feels great. She's been participating in camp. It's just one of those things that you don't want to rush. We're trying to get her back in. My staff and I talk a lot about what we want her in, what we want her out off, how to get her reps, get her going.
She said she feels great. She had some more meetings with doctors and stuff. When the doctors say it's time, she can get back into full stuff, that's when we'll throw her in.
Q. What are the team's biggest goals in year two?
STEVE AIRD: We talk a lot about the process. I'm a process guy. I just think, again, clichÃ©, but we got to get 1% better every day.
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 in the lineup we put out there.
I think you'll see a team this year that is a lot more physical than we've had in the past. I think the volleyball IQ is really high. We've brought Emily Fitzner in. A kid who you will recognize the name, her brother played basketball here last year. She's a kid I've known for quite some time. Was going to be the starting setter at USC and decommitted with a coaching change.
We have skill positions. Her and Haley Armstrong, a freshman from Toronto, a kid I've known since she was 14. Those are two freshmen kids with elite skill sets that are going to play a lot. We've added stuff.
I think it's going to be a very, very different look. With the transfers that we've brought in, there's a level of edge and confidence to them. They've been around, played college volleyball, feel really good about being here. I think it's a renewed energy for them.
Yeah, I don't put a number of wins or losses. We're going to be a pain to play. 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.
Q. (Question about Kendall's injury and depth.)
STEVE AIRD: Last night in training, we didn't have Kam Malloy, Seyshia Lofton, Kendall Beerman in the practice, and it was still elite. We were playing full stuff. We had subs on each side. Carrying 18 people on the roster. When you don't have depth, one injury can be debilitating. You just struggle to find production at key places.
I think, again, a testament to my staff, they've done a great job of identifying people that wanted to be here. We did a great job recruiting. Then I think we have enough depth now that we have a variety of systems we can look at, whether we play with one setter or two setters. We have a whole bunch of arms and physical kids.
Trying to find the right lineup I think is the biggest challenge. I tell them all the time: I don't care who plays, I want to win. If they're interested in playing, then they have to put it on tape, to use the NFL term, show us they deserve to be on the floor. If they do good things for the program, they're going to play.
Q. What did you see here that made you want to come here?
STEVE AIRD: For me it started with the administration, me trusting Fred. I just think he's a good human being. He's done a great job, especially with his say/do ratio for me has been incredible. Everything he said was going to be happening for volleyball happened.
The support we have here is second to none. I've been at a lot of programs. It's elite in terms of how they take care of the student-athlete.
The recruiting pitch is pretty simple. You get to play in the Big Ten, the best conference in the country. World class degree. Campus is always in the top two or three as most beautiful in the country.
We have won as a staff. We have trained pros and Olympians. At the end of the day, your volleyballs goals we'll help you get, you will get a world class degree.
The program has been around 45 or 50 years. One All American. I'm itchy to get that number going north, bringing in kids who are looking to play with the national team, looking to play in the Olympics. That's the kind of kids I want to coach.
Q. How much easier has that sell been because you can point to this building, investment in this sport?
STEVE AIRD: That's certainly front and center. I think the other thing that matter is we had a roster last year of 10 or 11 kids when healthy. We were on the bubble for the tournament in year one.
I think when you look at the energy around, I think the fact that we sold out, we had huge crowds at home matches, I think everything is pointing in the direction. When you take the job, you want people to know that you believe it's going to happen. People are skeptical by nature. They want to see what's going on.
The team was better, the energy was better, recruiting has gone crazy, we're finally in the new building. When you stack all those things up together, I think it's the start of what hopefully is going to be a pretty fun run here.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports