Boy did you miss it

By BobLa Gesse

It’s not every day an Illinois team beats a No. 1 team. The volleyball team did on Saturday.

And most likely you missed it.

The nearly 3,000 that watched the now No. 9 Illini end USC’s 52-match winning streak witnessed a sporting event that may not be equaled for years.

“This is the most exciting moment in Huff Hall as long as I can remember,” said Illinois senior setter Erin Virtue.

So how important is this match? It’s the biggest volleyball victory for the program, which is saying something. The Illini have been to two Final Fours.

Few Illinois sporting events in the last decade can match this win. The men’s tennis teams won a national title in 2002. The football team clinched the Big Ten title in 2001. The men’s gymnastics team reached No. 1 last year.

But this match has more to it than those season culminating events. This was like a script for another “Rocky” sequel.

Illinois won the first game against the Trojans, and it started the upset dreams. The Illini lost the next two games. The third game was a total disaster, like the final three “Rocky” movies.

Like the Italian Stallion, the Illini had to search deep inside and find what they had lost to win the match.

With “Eye of the Tiger” stuck in the team’s head, Illinois found a way to beat the invincible champion in the final two games.

Most great games have one reason why they are considered classics. This match had almost every possible reason in one serving.

First off, there was the national importance. USC’s 52-match winning streak was the longest ever in college volleyball. The win is like Notre Dame ending the UCLA basketball 88-game winning streak.

It is as impressive a win as when Michigan State came into Assembly Hall in 2002 and snapped Illinois’ 28-game home winning streak.

There was a comeback of monumental proportions.

Illinois was destroyed, 30-12 in the third game. Teams shouldn’t win after that.

It is like when the Buffalo Bills overcame a 32-point deficit in the second half to beat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in overtime in the 1993 playoffs.

It is along the lines of the Flyin’ Illini rallying from 16 points down to beat Georgia Tech and jump to number one in the basketball polls in 1989.

Most importantly, it was a win that pushed the Illini into the volleyball elite.

Look at Gonzaga basketball. The Bulldogs scrapped their way to an Elite Eight bid in 1999. Now they regularly reside in the Top 25.

Or when the Illinois wrestling program beat Iowa, a five-time defending NCAA champion in 1999 and started to become a national power. The wrestling squad has finished in the top ten in the country the last five years at the NCAA Championship.

This Trojan trouncing could do that for the volleyball team.

“We are not a fly-by night program,” said Illinois head coach Don Hardin. “We have future. We had stability to keep on winning.”

That future is downright scary. Each class, freshman to senior, has at least one blue-chip star. It’s like getting Dee Brown on campus as a freshman every year.

And what’s really scary is the Illini weren’t that impressed with their victory – even if it was the program’s first ever over a No. 1 team.

“I want to point out this isn’t even our best game,” said junior outside hitter Rachel VanMeter. “We haven’t even seen what we can do yet.”

When that happens, hopefully more people will be there.

Bobby La Gesse is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected]