Illini glad to return to Huff

By Mike Czapar

Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, said, “There’s no place like home.” After splitting the first Big Ten road trip of the year last weekend, the No. 24 women’s volleyball team knows exactly what she meant.

The Illini return to Huff Hall today and Saturday, hosting conference rivals Michigan and Michigan State.

Head Coach Don Hardin said the Illini are looking forward to playing at home.

“I think it’s always a blast playing here in front of our home fans,” Hardin said. “This is a special student group. They’re creative and they’re intimidating and, at the same time, they’re still classy.”

Illinois struggled early in the season due to injuries and inconsistency and has slipped to 2-2 in the Big Ten and 10-3 overall.

The Illini now look to cool off a hot Michigan team that has won six of its last seven games, compiling a record of 14-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten.

Hardin recognizes Michigan’s talent and has been preparing the Illini by focusing on the block this week during practice.

“(Michigan has) been on quite a roll led by their excellent outside hitting and their experienced fifth year senior setter,” Hardin said. “We’ve been working on closing up the block to take away that particular strength in their offense. They’re the hot team right now and we’re still searching for our team chemistry, so it’ll be a good challenge for us.”

Michigan is second in the Big Ten behind Minnesota and is creeping up in the national spotlight after receiving 80 votes in the most recent American Volleyball Coaches Association rankings.

Despite the scouting report on Michigan, junior outside hitter Rachel VanMeter said the Illini are continuing to emphasize communication and internal improvements as they have all season.

“We’ve been working on consistency a lot and also making sure things don’t get out of control,” VanMeter said. “If the other team gets a sideout, we want to make sure we side out on the very next ball and not let one mistake lead to two or three in row.”

In addition to avoiding mistakes, the Illini have focused on keeping up team morale. Redshirt freshman setter Stephanie Obermeier said the Illinois squad has been working hard to maintain a positive outlook.

“We really make sure at every practice we keep it up and don’t let anything take away from our team energy,” Obermeier said. “We’re still working a lot on our side, building team chemistry, so our energy level is really important.”

As the Illini head into a tough weekend of play, Hardin emphasized the strength of the Big Ten and the importance of winning at home.

“In the Big Ten, the bottom team often beats the top team. It’s one of the strongest conferences in the nation,” he said. “Any experienced coach or player will tell you in the Big Ten any win is a big win.”