Six collegiate volleyball athletes have come forward alleging emotional and verbal abuse under coach Steve Aird.

‘The program is doomed’

Players say Indiana volleyball coach Steve Aird created a culture of fear

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Editor's Note: This story mentions suicide and depictions of harassment.

For a year after leaving the Indiana volleyball program, she couldn’t look at a volleyball.

All her Indiana practice gear — anything the department gave her with the IU logo — was thrown out. Everything that reminded her of the team had to go.

The player, who asked to remain anonymous, didn’t recognize the person she became under head coach Steve Aird. She was depressed and would break out in hives from stress and anxiety. She could never sleep, and it was noticeable in the bags under her eyes, she said.

The player left the program after one year. Afterward, when talking to a therapist, she came to the realization that her issues started with Aird.

Although she doesn’t want to put labels on it, she thinks her symptoms are close to those of post-traumatic stress disorder. She was talented enough to transfer, but couldn’t handle the pressure of it. The idea of starting somewhere new and dealing with the same abuse again kept her from seeking out another future in volleyball, she said.

“To me, it was more of a survival thing to get out of there.”

Aird talking to players

Mallorey Daunhauer

Aird gives instructions during a timeout Sept. 17, 2021, in Wilkinson Hall. IU lost 0-3 to Ole Miss.

The Indiana Daily Student spoke with four players who all played under Aird from 2018 to 2021, as well as two players who played under Aird while he coached at the University of Maryland. All of the players at Indiana have since left the program and each one asked to remain anonymous. The players said they were concerned that Aird, well-connected within the volleyball community, could still hurt them. They said they feared he would use his connections to retaliate against players speaking out against him — even after leaving the program.

The players allege that Aird abused his position of power. They said he ran practices and drills to the point players would break into tears and begin to throw up. One time, when no one was around, one athlete said Aird asked her to show him her new tattoo on her backside. When players would bring their concerns to Aird regarding their mental health, he would often dismiss them, sometimes telling them that they should quit instead.


According to multiple sources, Indiana University opened an investigation into Aird in December 2021. The IDS began its reporting around the same time, but the university cut its own investigation short on Jan. 12 after deciding that there was not sufficient evidence to fire Aird, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation.

The IDS reached out to Aird, Athletic Director Scott Dolson and Deputy Director of Athletics Mattie White for interviews. Indiana University Athletics responded to all three requests with one statement.

The statement read:

“The well-being of our student-athletes is our department’s top priority and we take any allegation with the utmost of seriousness."

“Upon the completion of the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel’s review, we implemented all of the recommendations with the full cooperation of Coach Steve Aird.”

In a 2017 press release published when he was hired, IU Athletics hailed Aird as an on-court tactician, an elite recruiter, a coach who connects well with his players and the person who turned around Maryland volleyball. After coming to Indiana, he was well-liked by the fans. He brought in the 15th-highest total attendance in the nation in 2018, the program’s first year at the new Wilkinson Hall.

But inside the program, 15 of Aird’s 25 players who have left the program left before finishing their eligibility over his four years, either by transferring, being kicked off the team or quitting volleyball altogether. After securing his best record during the first season, Aird’s records have consistently gotten worse. Aird was giving them a sales pitch as a businessman, the players claim, when the reality of the program looked much different.


In 2019, Sharon Furlong and Lynne Beck sat with a group of Indiana volleyball alumni, watching a practice after receiving a tour of Wilkinson Hall.

Furlong and Beck both played at Indiana during the first years of the program. Furlong graduated in 1984, while Beck played through 1983. Both have stayed involved with the program since.

During their tour, one of the players made a mistake on the court. What shocked the alumni was the shouting immediately afterward.

Furlong remembers Aird yelling:

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Are you an idiot? You don’t have a brain!”

Alex Deryn

A volleyball net stands set up June 19, 2019, in Wilkinson Hall.

The group was stunned. The player started crying.

After the practice, Furlong said the group discussed whether he yelled at the player to show off or to impress the alumni.

“I’m not naive, I’ve been around this sport for over 40 years,” Furlong said. “I know coaches need to be tough, but I was also shocked he did it in front of us.”

For the players, it was nothing new. They say the practice environment had been built on fear under Aird. When someone made a mistake, instead of looking to get better they would look to avoid punishment. Sometimes it was pushups, sometimes they’d have to push a weighted sled the length of the court.

As they got older, the players lost confidence rather than becoming better. One of the players said she felt so broken down she lost the ability to set a volleyball. When the team would break into smaller groups to practice, she would often spend the drill crying.


One player said after transferring, she had the same reactions when making mistakes. She’d look around for the coaches, expecting retribution learned in a more toxic environment. Instead, her coaches would simply move on.

“They’re just like ‘Okay, next point,’ and I was like ‘What is this?’” she said.

That was never the case at Indiana. Often, the players said they would be ready for a punishment like the pit drill when making a mistake.

During a practice in the preseason of 2018, a ball dropped between two players due to miscommunication.

Aird cleared the court of every player but the two, stepped on a box and began the pit drill by hitting balls all over the gym. According to a player watching the drill, Aird was no more than 10 feet away from the players, hitting the balls as hard as he could for roughly 20 minutes.

“Just quit already!” one player remembers Aird yelling. “Just quit! Just quit!”

A player watching said she started crying. Those in the drill were exhausted and crawling on the floor, trying to get up. During the drill, they hit over 200 balls. Afterwards, they ran to the bathroom to throw up.

According to multiple players with access to Indiana's practice videos, the recordings of the pit drill were gone, while the surrounding practices that week were still there. Recently, the players say they have lost access to all practice footage from the 2018 season.


Steve Aird was hired by Indiana on Dec. 27, 2017, after spending four years as the Maryland volleyball head coach.

He led the Hoosiers to a 16-15 record in his first season in 2018, his best at Indiana.

The 2018 team was built almost entirely with players recruited under previous coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan. Aird told those players they wouldn’t be playing much over the next few seasons when he’d bring in his recruits to replace them, multiple players said. They’d be better and take over. The current players didn’t care about volleyball, Aird would say, according to multiple players.

But no matter how much time or effort players put in, it rarely was enough.

“I did everything he asked.”

“I came in early, I stayed late. I was a good teammate. And yet, still, he found a way to shit on me.”

— one of Dunbar-Kruzan’s recruits

Over four seasons, as older players have left Aird’s program, his team’s record has gotten worse. In 2019, the Hoosiers were 14-19. They were 5-15 in spring 2021 during the COVID-19 season before going 10-22 in fall 2021.

Over Aird’s four seasons, the players he recruited, the ones Aird said would take over, rarely played. Several of them were cut, with nearly no reasoning as to why. One said her world was turned upside down during the meeting when she found out she was no longer part of the program.

Aird told that player part of his decision to cut her came from a meeting with the team captains. But when the player talked to the captains, they told her the meeting never occurred.

Players are leaving at a high rate even with the new NCAA transfer portal rules, and Indiana isn’t bringing players in. The 2022 class included one recruit, who then decommitted from Indiana and flipped to Penn State.

The recruit will be playing under assistant coach Daniel Gwitt, who left Indiana to take an assistant coaching position at Penn State. Indiana’s other assistant coach, Krista Vansant, also left Indiana to take the same role at Illinois.

Aird talking to players

IDS Staff

Head coach Steve Aird talks with assistant coach Krista Vansant during IU volleyball’s game against Bowling Green State University on Aug. 29, 2021, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

When Alexis Alden was recruited to Maryland in 2014 by Aird in her freshman year of high school, she said it was exciting. Aird was always personable with her, encouraging her when she did well at a Maryland recruitment camp she attended. By the end of the camp, Alden had committed to Maryland, and she graduated a semester early to play at Maryland starting in 2017.

But when she arrived at the school, the dream she was sold started unraveling.

“It almost felt like a sales pitch,” Alden said. “Like he was telling you everything you wanted to hear.”

Alden said she expected to have fun playing volleyball in the Big Ten, one of the best conferences in the country, even though she knew it wouldn’t be easy.

But by the first preseason team meeting, Alden started to feel herself losing the love of the game as Aird laid out rule upon rule restricting her freedom.

“I still don't think I've completely grasped how bad it was.”

— Alexis Alden, former Maryland volleyball player

After Aird left for Indiana, the Maryland program improved. Katie Myers, another Maryland player under Aird, said it felt healthy and she felt safe to make mistakes again once Aird left. Myers said she maintained a good relationship with Aird while she was injured in 2016. She said Aird would send her supportive texts and motivational quotes, but once she returned to playing, that changed.

After experiencing a better environment, Myers said her view of her time with Aird and how he treated her began to change.

“Looking back, I don’t know if it was real or not,” Myers said.


Aird’s attacks often extended beyond volleyball ability, players interviewed by the IDS said. At one practice, two players were struggling to pass to each other. Aird leaned over to another player.

“Are they fucking the same guy or something?” a player remembers Aird asking. In a statement provided to the IDS, Aird denied this claim.

The comments felt personal, the players said. One player learned just how personal in an individual meeting.

“I’d rather lose than have you win,” she remembers him telling her.

The player said she didn’t understand what Aird meant, but guessed her “win” was a chance to play at all.

Aird’s personal comments also focused on what players ate. In January, a player posted a TikTok that accumulated 286,000 views describing a situation where a player was eating sweet potato fries before a practice. The player said Aird told her they looked good, but later held a meeting with the captains saying she shouldn’t be eating them, despite being approved by the team nutritionist.


But the problem ran deeper — Aird would often comment on players’ bodies and weights, calling some players fat and having them run more or telling others they were too skinny and needed to put on weight. Players began struggling to eat, according to multiple sources.

At Maryland, Alden said the players were often limited in what they could order at restaurants. Alden also said players would be weighed by the team three to five times a day during the preseason. Myers said she was told it was to see how much water weight they had lost during practice, but she thought it was unhealthy.

His comments went further.

In Alden’s freshman year, Aird asked her to have a meeting because he was concerned she was taking several naps a day, even though Alden says it was because she was transitioning into college athletics.

Alden had also recently gotten a tattoo on her right buttock.

As she left the meeting, Aird stopped her to ask about the tattoo. Alden said she didn’t know how he found out, but he told her word gets around.

Aird asked to see it. Alden told him no, that she wasn’t comfortable showing him, knowing where the tattoo was.

“Alright, maybe when you’re older,” Alden remembers Aird saying. Aird denied this allegation.


According to the Indianapolis Star, Dunbar-Kruzan once asked her players to think of one thing they would improve about themselves. Then-Athletic Director Fred Glass said he was surprised how many players answered with mental health issues like improving self-confidence.

During his time at Indiana, Glass prioritized mental health care for student athletes. In the Student Athlete Bill of Rights, Indiana committed to providing psychological health care services for its student athletes. The Hoosiers also employ a sports psychologist, Troy Moles, for its players to talk with.

But when volleyball players would try to get mental health help, several players said Aird would regularly dismiss them. If they raised it above Aird to Deputy Director of Athletics Mattie White, she’d push it aside too, they said.

During a player’s exit interview with White, she decided to blame herself for leaving the program rather than share the real reasons. She claimed she felt if she told the truth, it wouldn’t be dealt with.

When a player told Aird she was burnt out, she said Aird told her to quit so someone else could fill her spot on the roster. One veteran player on the team brought her concerns about players’ mental health being disregarded to Aird. She said she felt she needed to stick up for the underclassmen and work to make the program better. It didn’t work. Instead, Aird got defensive, acting as if he was the victim in the situation, the player said.

Players across the country have reported being uncomfortable talking to coaches about mental health. According to an NCAA study published in 2019, 49% of female student-athletes felt comfortable talking about mental health with their coaches and only 37% felt comfortable with the level of help they’ve received from their programs, both lower than male student athletes.


The national conversation surrounding student athletes’ mental health has expanded over recent years. In March, Ohio State offensive lineman Harry Miller announced he was retiring from football because of mental health struggles.

In April alone, two collegiate student-athletes were reported to have died by suicide. James Madison University announced softball player Lauren Bernett died April 25. Two weeks earlier on April 13, Wisconsin track runner Sarah Shulze died. A website dedicated to Shulze and the Sarah Shulze foundation, which advocates for mental health, posted a statement that Shulze had been overwhelmed balancing athletics and academics.

“Does he have to wait for someone to kill themselves before he actually starts caring and listening?”

— one player said regarding Aird.

One player sent out a negative tweet about her experience at Indiana. White immediately reached out to ask her about her experience, telling the player Indiana took these matters seriously.

“I had already talked to them about it,” the player said. “A dozen other people had talked to her about our concerns with Steve. When things were made public, they're essentially only caring about the image.”

When the player told White she wanted to talk directly with Indiana Athletic Director Scott Dolson, she said she would have him reach out. The player said he never did.

At Maryland, Alden started having panic attacks about what the next practice would look like or what the next conditioning drill was. At the practices, Alden would have to push through, pretending to be enjoying herself and not be exhausted.

The workload built up, she said, until a panic attack began. Alden’s panic attacks lasted until after she transferred to Loyola University Chicago, when she was able to shake the practice habits she picked up under Aird.

“If we ever had any sort of body language that showed that we were tired or we were exhausted that day, it wasn't allowed,” Alden said. “For so long, I had to put on this mask of ‘I'm not tired, no one can know that I feel this way today.’”


According to multiple sources, IU Associate General Counsel James Nussbaum investigated Aird.

Multiple players and parents sent letters or held phone calls with the administration at the end of November and into December 2021, laying out the problems and mental health issues they developed under Aird, and the investigation began by early December.

The investigation was cut short before several players were able to talk with the General Counsel. The players had been scheduled for interviews, but never spoke with the investigators.

Nussbaum declined to comment for this story, citing a privileged investigation. The IDS requested emails regarding the investigation, but were denied by the university, citing attorney-client privilege. The IDS also requested Aird’s disciplinary record, which the university said it does not maintain.

According to the section of the Indiana Student-Athlete Code of Conduct applicable to coaches, “Conduct that is verbally or physically threatening, abusive, belligerent, or harassing is never appropriate and shall not occur at any time.”


On Jan. 12, White met with the team to inform them the investigation did not find any fireable offenses, according to a source.

“While the details of the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel’s review and recommendations will remain confidential, it is important to note that the review did determine that the Department and its staff members handled and reported all claims to the university appropriately,” the athletic department’s statement read. “Any suggestions to the contrary are simply false.”

Days before the investigation was completed, Krista Vansant announced to the team she was leaving to take the assistant coaching role at Illinois. Two weeks later, Penn State announced Gwitt as an assistant coach.

Gwitt declined to comment because he had left Indiana to join another program. Vansant did not respond to emails from the IDS asking for an interview.

Aird talking to players

Alex Deryn

IU volleyball players’ names decorate the tops of lockers June 19, 2019, in Wilkinson Hall.

Because Indiana volleyball is a non-revenue sport, sources said they believe the university thinks paying for the buyout in Aird’s contract is too expensive.

The IDS obtained Aird’s contract, which runs through 2024. Aird will earn an average of $256,000 per year over the next three years. According to the contract, if Indiana were to fire Aird, the university would still owe Aird half his base salary through the end of his contract.


Five of the six players the IDS talked to said they’ve been in therapy since playing for Aird.

They’re attempting to move past the damage Aird inflicted. They’re watching as the program dries up. The students at Indiana don’t know what’s happening inside Wilkinson Hall, but the volleyball community is noticing.

“Everyone in the volleyball world knows what’s going on in the program,” one player said. “Everyone knows what’s going on. Why would you want to come here and play for him?”

Under Aird, Indiana has entered a new era, one that looks extremely different from what was promised. The program loses frequently at the expense of its players’ mental health, and many players have left Indiana, giving up the sport they loved to feel safe again. They tell others to follow suit — to transfer to another program or quit altogether.

“The program is doomed,” one player said. “It’s really sad because a lot of the girls would speak out, but they genuinely cannot.”

The IDS will continue to report on this issue following the publication of this investigation. Any news tips can be sent to reporter Evan Gerike over email at


The Indiana Daily Student spent nearly five months reporting this story after receiving several news tips about problems within the volleyball program. As part of the reporting process, we talked to six former athletes who played under Aird. Four of them, all from Indiana, requested to remain anonymous in the story. They were granted anonymity because they were either still connected to Indiana University and feared retribution through the school or because they were worried about Aird’s connections within the volleyball community.

The IDS also reached out to an additional nine former players for interviews. Four turned down the requests because of a desire to move past their experiences in the program or a fear of Aird. Five others did not respond.

The IDS also requested documents and emails related to Aird and the IU investigation, including Aird’s disciplinary record and emails between General Counsel James Nussbaum and Aird, Mattie White and Scott Dolson. The university said it does not maintain a disciplinary record for Aird, while the emails were protected by attorney-client privilege.