Volleyball’s 4-game home stand comes at ideal time

By Aryn Braun

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llinois volleyball is in the midst of a homestand. Four matches nestled nicely in a row, taking place at the one and only Huff Hall.

Playing at home can do wonders for a team, and fans have a lot to do with it. When players aren’t faced with opposing fans constantly berating and demoralizing them, it’s a lot easier to stay relaxed and focus on the task at hand, i.e. winning.

Homefield advantage. We hear the phrase all the time. But what does it really mean? What makes playing at home advantageous?

It’s a comfort level. Your locker room, your fans, your band, your pregame routine. It’s familiar. It’s home.

When hypothesizing about which team will win a game, in any sport, where the game is played matters.

“Oh, Illinois is playing Ohio State at State Farm Center? They’ve got a chance!” How many times have we heard lines like this? Fans, especially, always feel better about going against top teams if they can do so on their terms, in their town.

I bet the Illinois volleyball team isn’t hating on the chance to play four games in a row at home.

The first was a major victory. Illinois came back from being down two sets to zero to beat No. 17 Michigan. It was the big win they had been waiting for.

This season the Illini have struggled when falling behind early, making this win over the Wolverines especially sweet. Not only did they beat a top program and a conference rival, they did it in a way that proved something to themselves. They fought, and came up victorious.

How much of that win can be attributed to homecourt advantage? It’s impossible to tell, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt.

When a team plays at home, the fans and coaches pick up on the momentum of the players. It’s those moments when the entire arena fills with anticipation and there is a kind of palpable excitement that can practically be felt rippling through the bleachers.

The opposing team feels that too, and it’s unsettling. That’s homefield advantage in a nutshell.

In their second straight home matchup, the Illini beat No. 13 Michigan State 3-1 Saturday night to move into fourth place in the Big Ten standings. The Spartans had squashed Illinois 3-0 in their last meeting in early October.

Not such a good weekend for the state of Michigan.

The Illini are capitalizing on this unprecedented stretch of home games, and it comes at the perfect time. Big Ten play is more than halfway over, with just six matches remaining before the postseason.

This far into the season, players are tired, they’re hurt, they’re looking for ways to gain the upper hand. This year, the schedule does that for Illinois.

It’s not as though playing at home will make the Illini a better team. It’s possible to be outplayed and overmatched at Huff Hall. It’s the emotional leverage; the psychological comfort Illinois gains just by walking out onto the court to a sea of orange and the sounds of the Marching Illini.

This new propensity for performing well in front of a home crowd is a noticeable change from last season, when the Illini went 5-7 at Huff Hall. It was as though the team was so concerned with living up to expectations, it could never settle in and play its game. 

The Illini were nervous, afraid to let the Illinois faithful down.

This year’s team has matured. They’re comfortable in their own skin. Home is no longer a scary place to play.

Illinois will face Indiana and Purdue this week to finish off its home stint before heading back on the road.

Two weeks of home games is a blessing. It’s a reprieve; a welcome rest from foreign locker rooms, opposing fans and Big Ten teams with their own homecourt advantage.

Aryn is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ArynBraun.