Volleyball hopes for solid second half

By Mike Czapar

Is the glass half-empty or half-full?

In the eyes of the No. 21 Illinois women’s volleyball team, although the Big Ten season is half over, the Illini are just getting started.

The second round of Big Ten play begins for Illinois when it heads to Michigan (5-5) and Michigan State (2-8) this Friday and Saturday. In the previous meetings, the Illini battled Michigan to a 3-2 victory and swept an inferior Michigan State team 3-0.

The Illini are faced with a second half of the Big Ten season that features six road games and only four home games. Despite the appearance of a more difficult half, head coach Don Hardin said the team has matured since the beginning of the year.

“I think the team definitely has a harder schedule the second half because we are away more, and we face some really tough teams away like Ohio State and Penn State,” Hardin said. “But I think the team is better, and that we’ve grown a lot in the last couple matches. I think the two factors together will wash each other out.”

The Illini have played much better in the last few weeks, winning four out of the last six matches. Senior outside hitter Jessica Belter said the team has high expectations for the remainder of the season and anticipates an improvement in the second half.

“We want to come out more confident in ourselves and have more consistent play,” Belter said. “I think we proved we’re more confident by coming out really aggressively against some top ranked teams.”

The Illini are coming off a big win last Saturday over previously undefeated No. 7 Ohio State and are hoping to keep the momentum going.

Junior outside hitter Rachel VanMeter said the squad has learned from its previous mistakes and is not going to dwell on last Saturday’s performance.

“Saturday was a big boost for us, but immediately after the game we were focused on practicing for this weekend,” VanMeter said. “After the USC win, we celebrated a little too long and lost our next match to an unranked team.”

Despite beating both teams in prior match-ups, Hardin emphasized the strength of both Michigan and Michigan State, and stressed the importance of winning this weekend.

“Both matches on the road will be incredible fights for us,” Hardin said. “I’m not going to say this weekend will make or break us, but it’s a very critical weekend. With some of our really tough matches coming up on the road, we need to grab all we can get right now.”