BLOOMINGTON -- In Year 2 as Indiana’s volleyball coach, Steve Aird is trying to build a championship culture.
The championship connections are apparent when looking up and down the IU women’s volleyball roster. Senior outside hitter Megan Sloan’s father, Brian Sloan, played for Indiana’s 1987 men’s basketball national title team under Bob Knight. So did freshman defensive specialist Sophie Oliphant’s father, Jeff Oliphant.
Three more players on the IU volleyball roster have family ties to high-achieving athletes as well. Freshman setter Emily Fitzner’s father, Mark Fitzner, played basketball at Stanford while her brother, Evan Fitzner, played basketball at IU last season. Sophomore outside hitter Kari Zumach’s father, Darin Zumach, played basketball at Michigan State under Jud Heathcote, while senior middle blocker Jacqui Armer’s father, Chip Armer, played on Michigan’s Fab Five teams in the early 1990s.
“We joke about that a lot. We have a pretty good starting five (of) former dad basketball players,” said Aird, who went 16-15 in his first season as IU’s coach.
But there’s value in the lessons passed down from fathers to daughters as well, lessons Aird thinks will continue to show on the volleyball court as the Hoosiers compete in the rough and tumble Big Ten. Four of the last six NCAA women’s volleyball national champions have come from the conference, including Nebraska in 2017 and Penn State in back-to-back years in 2013 and 2014.
“They have competitive daughters, but they are better human beings and better families,” Aird said. “These are just good kids. They know how to work. They come in every day.”
Sloan transferred to IU from Louisville this past offseason, getting a chance to star where her dad wore the Candy Stripes as a 6-foot-8 center from 1985-89. Her grandfather, Jerry Sloan, coached the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals in 1998 with the duo of point guard John Stockton and power forward Karl Malone.
“He has a lot of great stories,” Sloan said of her dad. “Obviously, winning the national championship is probably the best story he has, but the bond he has with his teammates, it just carries on for the rest of his life, and it’s something I think I have here, too.”
Sloan played basketball, ran track, played softball and played volleyball before college. She stopped playing basketball in seventh grade.
“I liked basketball,” Sloan said. “I just felt like it wasn’t for me.”
Growing up, Sloan recalled going to IU basketball games and Jazz games over Christmas break. The household, Sloan said, was highly competitive.
“My dad is pretty competitive when it comes to just about anything,” Sloan said. “I would say we’re all pretty competitive.”
But Sloan said her father also is someone she can call when adversity hits inside or outside her athletic career.
“He gets it,” Sloan said. “He understands the grind and everything that comes with playing college athletics. He’s a great person to talk to for that.”
As for her father’s best advice, Sloan said: “Hard work. He always taught me growing up effort trumps talent and when you work as hard as you can no one can stop you.”
Oliphant said her father texts her daily, offering her advice on how to carry herself on campus and in other aspects of college life. Her two older siblings, her brother Sam and sister Abby, both attend IU and are enrolled at the Kelly School of Business. Jeff Oliphant was a freshman guard on IU’s 1987 national title team who finished his college career shooting .516 (16-of-31) from 3-point range.
“She’s happy she’s there,” said Jeff Oliphant, now an attorney who lives in Carmel. “It’s a great place for her to be. She’s grown up around the campus and Bloomington, so she’s always been a Hoosier. So it’s a great place for her to be, and having Coach Aird there is a big bonus.”
Like Sloan’s family, Jeff Oliphant said the household growing up was competitive.
“If it was taking the kids to play putt-putt, it might sometimes turn into a big fight because someone was beating somebody else,” he said. “So it was a very competitive thing amongst all the kids, but she’s always had that, but it’s been a good thing. It’s helped her. It’s helped her get better, become a better player.”
Sophie Oliphant shares a bond with Megan Sloan, similar to the bond Jeff Oliphant and Brian Sloan share from being on the 1987 national title team. She and Megan often played on the same club volleyball teams growing up, even though Megan was older.
“I know Megan has my back,” she said. “It does mix us all together, and the team dynamic is much stronger because we all are blending.”
Fitzner watched her brother play IU basketball games last season and fell in love with the campus. In addition to her dad playing basketball at Stanford, her mother played volleyball and was a setter at the University of Hawaii. Like Sloan, Fitzner chose playing volleyball over basketball.
“My mom is a huge influence on me, and I just wanted to follow in her footsteps,” Fitzner said.
IU opens its season Friday at home at the new $17 million Wilkinson Hall in the Indiana Invitational. The Hoosiers will face FIU (12:30 p.m.) and Marshall (8 p.m.) on Friday and Tennessee-Martin (10 a.m.) and Santa Clara (7 p.m.) on Saturday.
Aird, who came to IU after four successful seasons at Maryland, said the championship connections can only help IU volleyball become stronger.
“I’m learning,” Aird said. “I’m about 16 months, 18 months into this thing, but there’s a lot of pride in this place. It’s an amazing school, amazing campus, and our job as a staff and as a program is to get people fired up for volleyball.”