Illinois volleyball hosts Spring Classic

By Mike Czapar

For all the Spike Squaders who have struggled through a long, volleyball-less winter, your sporting needs can be fulfilled this Saturday as the Illinois women’s volleyball team hosts its annual Networkers Volleyball Spring Classic. The seven-team tournament will feature a long day of action on two courts, as teams play five matches each – beginning bright and early at 8:30 a.m.

Teams attending this year’s tournament include Valparaiso, Missouri, Southern Illinois, Marquette, Indiana State, and the Peoria Cougars – a team made up primarily of players from Illinois Central College.

The Illini kick off play Saturday morning, competing in one of the first two matches against Southern Illinois on the Orange Court, and will compete again at 10:50, 1:10, 3:30 and 4:30 against Marquette, Valparaiso, Indiana State and Missouri, respectively.

Head coach Don Hardin said he is looking forward to the weekend’s competition and is looking to experiment with athletes in positions they traditionally do not play.

“It’s fun to watch volleyball in the spring because you have players playing different positions and learning new skills – some of which will be important in the fall,” Hardin said. “Success at these events is defined by improvement and development. For the true volleyball enthusiast, it is interesting to watch.”

The Illini will be sporting a new look in tournament action, as they will be without their four graduating seniors, setter Erin Virtue, defensive specialists Kathleen Bazzetta and Lauren Harks and outside hitter Jessica Belter.

Looking to fill the big shoes of the core group of seniors will be a talented group of juniors and sophomores, led by junior outside hitter Rachel VanMeter – who may be seeing some back row action this season.

Virtue, who missed the majority of last season due to a knee injury, attempted to obtain an additional year of athletic eligibility due to medical hardships, but was denied by the Big Ten this week.

Hardin said the ruling was unfortunate, but emphasized how the strength of Virtue’s character will help her rebound.

“Obviously, losing Erin has been a big blow,” Hardin said. “The most unfortunate thing was the fact that she was on the verge of having a great senior year. To see her not be able to fulfill that is really hard. On the flip side, injuries are a part of life, and Erin is one of the most resilient people I’ve met. This won’t keep her down.”