Milestone win approaches

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By Mike Czapar

Most weekends, a ticket stub from an Illini football game merely serves as a painful reminder of another disappointing loss. However, this Saturday fans can trade their sorrows for admission to this Saturday’s No. 25 Illinois women’s volleyball match at Huff Hall.

Illinois will look to not only improve upon its Big Ten record of 7-5, but also to earn head coach Don Hardin’s milestone 350th win.

The Illini squad will take on a hot Wisconsin team in the midst of an eight-game winning streak Friday, and finish up the weekend against Northwestern Saturday. In previous encounters, the Illini fell to Wisconsin 3-1, and swept Northwestern 3-0.

Junior outside hitter Rachel VanMeter said she anticipates a tough weekend of volleyball from both opponents and is especially focused on Wisconsin’s outside hitting.

“Wisconsin has really good outside hitters, so we’ve been working a lot on our side blocking and stopping their attack,” VanMeter said. “Wisconsin is just an all-around tough team. We’re going to have to be playing our game both nights because Northwestern is not to be taken lightly either.”

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    The Illini have played exceptionally at times, beating teams ranked in the top 10, but have also had some difficulties, losing to inferior teams several times this season.

    Hardin said preparation for this weekend’s games has been typical with a focus on consistency and playing all teams with the same intensity.

    “Like always, it’s more about us and less about them,” Hardin said. “If we play well, we’ve shown we can beat everyone, and if we don’t, we’ve shown that we can also lose to anyone as well. We still have our ups and downs, and we have several key players that we are ironing out to make sure we’ll be ready for the weekend.”

    The Illini are two games behind fourth-place Wisconsin in the Big Ten Standings. A pair of wins this weekend would move Illinois closer to the cusp of the Big Ten, and give the Illini confidence as they finish the last six games of the regular season.

    Junior outside hitter Rasa Virsilaite said although the team is obviously aware that the regular season is almost over, the Illini have not been preparing for the post-season any differently than they have all year.

    “We’re still trying to win our three games in row like we have all year,” Virsilaite said. “That strategy has been preparation for winning three rounds in the NCAA tournament. Maybe we haven’t been as successful as we hoped, but it’s been our strategy all year and still is.”

    Hardin said the Illini are going to ignore their postseason aspirations for now, and focus on playing tough volleyball this weekend.

    “We’ve chosen not to really put much thought into how wins now could affect the postseason,” Hardin said. “We’re just going to focus on the match in front of us. If we take care of business now and show improvement from the first half of the season, then we’ll be in good shape entering the tournament.”