Illini win Classic

Jessica Belter (1) and Meghan Macdonald (4) block a Miami of Ohio hit on Friday at Huff Hall. Illinois went on to win their match 3-0 and the 21st Annual State Farm Illini Classic. Lauren Lenkowski

Jessica Belter (1) and Meghan Macdonald (4) block a Miami of Ohio hit on Friday at Huff Hall. Illinois went on to win their match 3-0 and the 21st Annual State Farm Illini Classic. Lauren Lenkowski

By Ian Gold

Attracting competitive teams to Huff Hall is getting tougher because of the raucous atmosphere and the Illini volleyball team’s stature. This weekend, however, the Illini got three teams to come, and they, along with the Illini, turned the State Farm Illini Classic into a true classic.

Illinois started out the weekend having to concentrate on playing Miami (Ohio) for the second time in a week. Illinois head coach Don Hardin referred to that game as “dangerous” because Miami would be out for revenge. They had already seen the Illini this season, and the Illini had to avoid taking them lightly while looking forward to playing No. 1 ranked USC.

“I have been talking to the team about winning three matches in a row,” Hardin said. “Last year in the tournament we won two in a row. Now to progress, we need to win three.”

On Friday night, after USC made short work of American University, the Illini avoided the danger and pounded the Redhawks into submission, 3-0. The Illini were led by tournament MVP junior outside hitter Rachel VanMeter, who tallied 15 kills.

While Illinois competed against the Redhawks, USC looked on, studying for its game. They had a confidence about them, but at the same time, made some faces acknowledging that Illinois was going to be tough. And while the USC attention was on Illinois during the game, afterwards Illinois pointed their attention right back at USC.

“We have to understand that we have to compete from the beginning,” Hardin said. “It would be a big mistake to play with our shields up.”

Illinois and USC proceeded to put on a show for the nearly 3,000 fans in attendance. It was USC’s sheer power against Illinois’ execution and skill. Through the five games, the Illini were dominated in almost every statistical category.

But execution and skill won out. The Illini topped USC and ended the longest win streak in the country at 52 games.

“People are going to start looking at us as a top program,” VanMeter said. “USC has such a prestigious reputation, but they are normal. They are excellent, but they are normal.”

USC head coach Mick Haley said he was happy to come to such a competitive tournament. He said his team had a great time.

Coach Hardin said it might be beneficial for the Trojans to have gotten that bull’s-eye off their backs and focus on the rest of the season without having to maintain the streak.

Even though Illinois was not looking at this game as must-win, it was the experience the team needed before entering the Big Ten schedule.

“This isn’t even our best game,” VanMeter said. “You haven’t seen the best that we can be yet.”