Volleyball wins third straight tourney

Lauren Lenkowski

Lauren Lenkowski

By Ian Gold

Middle blocker Jen Hynds’ ankle wasn’t strong enough to allow her to compete. Senior setter Erin Virtue injured her knee. And just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse, things got better. Illinois, despite playing with a predominantly underclassmen lineup, won the Arkansas C&C; Services Invitational.

“It’s a sign of tremendous attitude and how they are capable to fight through things,” Illinois head coach Don Hardin said. “It’s amazing how they got through the matches. Arkansas is a tough match and seeing them pull out a road win like that is encouraging.”

Junior Rasa Virsilaite picked up MVP honors, continuing her strong play marked by pinpoint accuracy on her kills. She ended with 59 kills through the weekend, leading the way for the nicked-up Illini.

Illinois started the weekend steamrolling Houston 3-0; Houston had no answer for the Orange and Blue’s offense. After playing tough for the first two games, the Illini closed out a quick third game 30-16.

Later that night, the Illini took on Ball State, again pounding balls to the floor and collecting kills. Virsilaite and junior hitter Rachel VanMeter recorded 21 and 25 respectively.

The win was tarnished by a freak landing against the Cardinals that sidelined Erin Virtue.

“Staying healthy through the year is what I am preaching all the time,” Hardin said. “It has been a theme early through the year that we’ve had injuries, but I am hopeful we can get that sured up before Big Ten play.”

The Illini ended the weekend strong in a tough game against Arkansas. With Virtue out of the game it was redshirt freshman Stephanie Obermeier that was feeding the ball to the hot hitters. Rasa Virsilaite paved the way again tallying 21 kills and allowing for true freshman Vicki Brown to come in and change the pace of the game to the tune of a career high 12 kills. Hardin is excited about what Brown will be able to add to this team through the year.

“Arkansas was doing a nice job with VanMeter, but we threw in Vicki (Brown) and she was able to do some good things,” Hardin said.

Although picking up three wins and fighting back after a mediocre performance against Loyola was important, the Illini were hurt by the loss of Virtue. For two years, she has been a key player on the team, and learning to play without her will be a major adjustment. Her status is uncertain, although it is known she will be out for at least a month.

Thankfully for the Illini, their backup plan, Obermeier, has learned how to get the job done. This past weekend it was Obermeier who led the Illini to victory over Arkansas, and the team’s confidence in her is what could carry the team through the Virtue loss.

“She’s awesome,” Hardin said. “She came in and played like a seasoned veteran. I don’t expect to have Erin back for a month so we are going to have to get it done without her. I’m hoping our fans come back and stick with us through this period we have to fight through.”