Volleyball to face tough competition

By Mike Czapar

It’s not often that a team has the opportunity to defeat a no. 1 and a no. 2 ranked team in the nation during the regular season.

The Illinois women’s volleyball team (14-3), who beat previously no. 1 ranked USC earlier in the year, faces such a difficult task this weekend when it goes up against no. 2 Minnesota and Iowa on the road.

The Illini will warm up with Iowa on Friday and then travel to take on volleyball powerhouse Minnesota Saturday night.

Head coach Don Hardin said USC and Minnesota are both top teams, but he emphasized the different type of talent Minnesota uses.

“USC is a team who has really tough middles, whereas Minnesota relies on its excellent outside hitting to dominate teams,” Hardin said. “They’ve been on a really big roll at home and have gained a lot of confidence.”

Minnesota is undefeated at home this season and has beaten Illinois in three of the past five meetings at the Sports Pavilion. Last year, home court advantage was a major deciding factor, as both Illinois and Minnesota won 3-1 on their respective home courts.

To prepare for the weekend, the Illini have worked on serving throughout the week in hopes of throwing off the timing of the strong Minnesota offense.

Junior outside hitter Rasa Virsilaite said sometimes the best defense against a strong hitting team is offense.

“We worked a lot this week on making our serves more aggressive,” Virsilaite said. “They (Minnesota) are a great offensive team and one way to stop them is to not give them as much of an opportunity to set up.”

Senior outside hitter Jessica Belter said the main focus of the Illini continues to be the team’s mindset and being confident while playing on the road.

“We really need to make sure we prepare mentally before the game,” Belter said. “We have to come out and play our game because Minnesota is really intense. They’re not going to let any ball drop without a body flying under it.”

Hardin said the Illini are realistic about their expectations for the weekend, but are also aware of the amount of talent in the Big Ten.

“This weekend we play both a top team in the conference, Minnesota, and a bottom team in the conference, Iowa,” Hardin said. “We could realistically win or lose in either game. That’s just how the Big Ten works.”