Illini aim to bounce back

Lauren Lenkowski

Lauren Lenkowski

By Mike Czapar

After suffering the first loss of the season in a tough match against unranked Loyola (Chicago) Tuesday night, the No. 9 Illinois women’s volleyball team is hoping to return to its winning ways. The Illini will have their chance to bounce back this weekend as they travel to Fayetteville, Ark. for the C & C Services Invitational.

The four-team tournament features round robin competition consisting of Illinois, Houston, Ball State and host Arkansas.

The Illini will kick things off when they take on the Houston Cougars in the opening match of the tournament at noon on Friday.

Illinois head coach Don Hardin said the team’s focal point this week has been in-house improvements and not the scouting of any one team the Illini face this weekend.

“This week in practice we spent a lot more time and energy on our side of the net,” Hardin said. “We didn’t really have a lot of time to regroup from Tuesday, so we’ve really kept our focus internal.”

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    During the Illini’s loss to Loyola, they played without freshman middle blocker Jen Hynds who was injured at the end of practice on Monday. Hardin said Hynds is considered “probable” for the weekend and is likely to see restricted court time.

    “I think she (Hynds) will see limited action,” Hardin said. “We’re not pushing her to overexert herself because our main goal is to get ready for the Big Ten season.”

    Stepping into the rotation at middle blocker for Hynds will be sophomore Meg Griffin, a player who Hardin said is very capable and whom he is very confident in.

    Senior defensive specialist Kathleen Bazzetta said the Illini are more comfortable with the squad they will bring into Friday’s match having been able to practice with the changes in personnel.

    “We had a lot of challenges early on against Loyola because we didn’t even have a chance to practice the rotation we came out with.” Bazzetta said. “This week we worked mainly on not making as many mistakes and errors during the game that really made us beat ourselves. We know that if we focus on our team and what we can do, good things will happen.”

    Hardin said the Illini definitely benefited from having a practice to quickly regroup and that the team as a whole benefited from the experience of a tough loss early in the year.

    “I think the message is that we need to do a better job focusing on some of the things that have gotten us where we are,” Hardin said. “We had a really great practice yesterday, and I think we learned a good lesson and a very necessary lesson.”

    Hardin accredits some of the difficulties the Illini experienced in their first loss of the year to the uncertainties of early season play.

    “Early on, it’s kind of like a rollercoaster ride,” Hardin said. “At times we’re going to be up and at other times we’re going to be down. That’s how it goes early in the year.”

    The Illini look to be heading up the roller coaster when they take on Houston Friday.