Volleyball hopes to block Purdue, IU

Tim Eggerding

Tim Eggerding

By Mike Czapar

Late in the regular season, it seems the weakest opponents often make up the most important matches. Such a statement is especially true for the No. 25 Illinois women’s volleyball team as they travel to Purdue and Indiana this Friday and Saturday.

With three of the Illini’s final six opponents ranked in the top 10, a pair of wins this weekend against unranked teams would greatly improve the team’s confidence and help establish the Illinois squad’s dominance.

Head coach Don Hardin emphasized the importance of this weekend’s matches at a press conference last Wednesday.

“This is a very critical weekend for our program,” Hardin said. “Purdue and Indiana are typically teams that wreak havoc for Illinois on the road. Both teams are capable of beating us; that’s the Big Ten. But we are most certainly able and ready to beat them as well.”

When the Illini met these two teams the first time, the squad limped onto the court with both senior setter Erin Virtue and redshirt freshman middle blocker Jen Hynds on the disabled list. Consequently, Illinois lost to Purdue, but was able to salvage the weekend with a win over Indiana.

This time around, the team has recovered mentally from the huge loss of Virtue, and is physically stronger with the powerful blocking of Hynds back in the lineup.

Senior defensive specialist Lauren Harks said there is a big difference between the inexperienced team that faced Purdue and Indiana last time and the one that will take the court this weekend.

“Bringing Hynds back into the lineup has made a huge difference because of her blocking,” Harks said. “Stephanie has had a lot of time to get comfortable at setter since last time, and the team chemistry has completely evolved since then. We’re a totally different team the second time around.”

Because Purdue served Illinois one of its only two home losses, the Illini have a little extra motivation to beat the Boilermakers in front of Purdue’s home crowd; the match has been moved from its scheduled 7 p.m. eastern time start to 8 p.m. However, the focus this week at practice has been less on revenge and more on playing strong Illinois volleyball.

Hynds said the Illini and the Big Ten as a whole have both grown more competitive as the season has progressed, and that she looks forward to this weekend’s matches.

“There’s always the revenge factor when you play a team that beat you, but we can’t get too into that or we’ll lose our focus,” Hynds said. “Every team is stronger and more prepared to play later in the season. This whole week practice has been very focused and very enthusiastic. I think we’ve slowly improved throughout the season and are ready to play.”