Volleyball ready to continue streak

Lauren Lenkowski

Lauren Lenkowski

By Mike Czapar

The Illini hope to put a few more tallies in the loss columns of No. 5 Penn. State and No. 7 Ohio State this Friday and Saturday at Huff Hall. The weekend’s matches are the second and third consecutive meetings between Illinois and a top-10 team within the last week.

The weekend of clashes between volleyball powerhouses begins when the Illini take on Penn State Friday night. Penn State’s only two losses were close five-game matches against then No. 1 Minnesota and Ohio State.

In the second match of the weekend, the Illini look to stop undefeated Ohio State and its red-hot outside hitter Stacey Gordon who leads the nation in kills per game (7.17) and recently broke the Big Ten career kills record (2,380).

Head Coach Don Hardin recognizes Ohio State’s immense talent and has emphasized working on the block this week to prepare for one of the best hitters in the nation.

“Ohio State is a very good jump serving team and a very aggressive hitting team,” Hardin said. “They have arguably one of the best players in the nation who has been virtually unstoppable this season.”

Redshirt freshman middle blocker Jen Hynds and the rest of the Illini middles are faced with the tough task of controlling Gordon. Hynds said the Illini have been preparing for Gordon and hope to minimize the damage she does.

“Of course, she’s going to get her big hits, that’s what great players do,” Hynds said. “But we can’t let her big hits phase us. We have to stay on our side and concentrate on our enthusiasm.”

The Illini have played exceptionally at Huff Hall against strong teams and have not lost to a ranked opponent at home since September 2002.

Junior outside hitter Rachel VanMeter said the Illini perform so well against ranked teams at home because of how difficult of an environment the crowd provides.

“We absolutely love playing at Huff,” VanMeter said. “When we get a great crowd, other teams hate to play here.”

An upset this weekend would provide the Illini with a boost and show that they have fully recovered from the loss of senior setter Erin Virtue, who is out with a torn ACL.

“This is a dangerous team that is starting to get its confidence back,” Hardin said. “We’re building back up from Erin’s injury and we’re going to pick off one of these teams. It’s bound to happen.”

Hardin is excited about the level of competition entering the gym this weekend and looks forward to his team playing at home.

“There’s just no substitution for a home crowd,” Hardin said. “And if we play to our ability, there’s going to be some really great volleyball going on in front of that crowd.”