Volleyball looks to repeat win over Miami in State Farm Illini Classic

By Mike Czapar

This Friday and Saturday the No. 16 Illini women’s volleyball team hosts the State Farm Illini Classic at Huff Hall. The Illini welcome Miami (Ohio), American University and two-time defending NCAA champion USC onto the court.

The tournament kicks off Friday at 5 p.m., as the American Eagles take on the USC Trojans in the opening match. The Miami Redhawks play the Illini at 7 p.m.

The matchup between Illinois and Miami is a re-match of last Saturday’s championship, which took place at the Miami “Hurricane Frances” Classic in Oxford, Ohio. In the previous competition, the Illini blanked Miami 3-0 to win the tournament crown.

Senior setter Erin Virtue said the repetition in opponents will be beneficial, but still not hugely significant given the present point in the season.

“I think it’s always good for us to play a team a second time,” Virtue said. “They know our tendencies, and we know theirs, which makes the game more competitive. But I think something we have to make sure we focus on is how our side plays. It’s still early in the season to be scouting as much as we would later in the Big Ten season.”

Even though the Illini just finished an impressive early tournament victory against Miami last weekend, the squad is still focused on playing hard and not overlooking a team they beat less than a week ago.

Senior libero Lauren Harks is focused on Friday’s match. She refuses to look past Miami to a possible matchup with USC.

“Any team can come out and play top-notch volleyball anytime they step onto the court,” Harks said. “The match we’re focused on is Miami; if you lose the first game you’re done. There’s no point to look ahead to USC. We take it one game at a time.”

Facing a team multiple times is nothing new to the Illini, since they face every team twice in the Big Ten season. Harks thinks that the early season repetition can only benefit some of the younger players who are not as used to the schedule.

“Playing Miami again is just like typical Big Ten season play,” Harks said. “We play every team twice in the Big Ten season, and I think it will help us and some of our younger players to play Miami again so soon.”

The Illini have been working hard this week to improve upon last week’s performance and get ready for the State Farm Classic.

Virtue said the team has been focusing a lot of time on defense during practice this past week.

“We’ve been working a lot on our middle attack and defense in general,” Virtue said. “We didn’t do as well on defense – as far as our mobility – last week as we could have, and that’s something we are really pushing to improve on.”

Harks agrees that the work this week has been directed mainly on defensive play but also thinks the team has benefited from its work at the net during practice.

“We’ve been focusing a lot on passing and defense which has been very helpful,” Harks said. “Our hitters have also been focusing on ball placement and variety. We shouldn’t always just swing hard for the ball, but play the smart ball.”