Illini drop match at Purdue

By Lucas Deal

Another match, and another tough loss for the Illinois volleyball team.

For the second time in less than a week, the Illini played toe-to-toe with a nationally ranked team, but once again, poor serve receive and several attack errors ultimately resulted in a 30-25, 30-22 and 30-23 loss at No. 17 Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., on Wednesday.

The Illini have been struggling with their consistency for several weeks now, and had hoped to get back on the right track against the Boilermakers. But now, after the loss, it looks like they’re back at square one.

“I’m very concerned about our girls’ confidence right now,” Illini head coach Don Hardin said. “I’m concerned that our beliefs have really been shaken during this stretch we’ve been in over the past couple weeks.”

The Illini opened the match well and led for a period before Purdue finally tied the game at 19. The Illini stayed within striking distance for the remainder of the game but the Boilermakers prevailed.

Illinois jumped out to another lead in game two, but again the Boilermakers rallied over the second half of the match for a convincing 30-22 win.

In game three, the Illini opened with an early run to take a 7-3 lead, and after Purdue rallied, the Illini pushed their lead back up to five at 15-10.

But once again the Boilermakers came back, tying the match at 18. The two teams battled back and forth for a number of scores before Illinois’ inexperience finally caught up with them and Purdue finished off the match.

“We played pretty well at the start of every game, but it seemed like when we got up around 18 or so we just committed too many errors,” Hardin said.

“I believe we’re capable of winning these types of matches and beating top-25 teams like (Purdue), so it really hurts our confidence to lose like this.”

The Illini are now 11-9 on the season, but only 2-7 in the Big Ten. Purdue is 17-3, 6-3 in the conference.

Outside hitter Rachel VanMeter led the Illini on offense for much of the night, recording a match-high 18 kills. Setter Lizzie Bazzetta also had a good match, finishing with 11 digs and 34 assists.

“We passed a lot better tonight than we have recently,” Hardin said, “Purdue is a good serving team so it was good to see that. We just had a lot of hitting errors too late (in the match).”

The Illini have the rest of the week off before traveling to Indiana on Saturday. Hardin hopes the Illini come out rested and ready to go against the Hoosiers, the only Big Ten team Illinois hasn’t faced thus far this season.

“We really need to get a win on the road to help our confidence,” he said. “We’ve been getting rattled early (in matches), and we never really rebound. It’s important for us to play well.”