Volleyball hopes to upset Purdue

By Troy Murray

The Illinois women’s volleyball team will not get a rest after losses against No. 3 Penn State and No. 19 Ohio State – it has to play No. 14 Purdue on Wednesday, a team that before last weekend had only lost four games.

Illinois is on a four-game skid and hopes to beat a Purdue team who also faced the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes last weekend and lost both matches. The Boilermakers (10-6, 21-6) are tied for fourth with Minnesota.

Although Purdue took the first match up of the year against Illinois in three-straight games, there were 25 ties and nine lead changes in the match. Head coach Don Hardin compared it to the Ohio State match just last weekend.

“We were close to a win in each game until the end,” Hardin said. “It was very similar to Ohio State in that way.”

In the three-game loss on Oct. 19, Purdue outhit the Illini .308-.143, a statistic that Illinois will likely need to improve if they hope to win the rematch.

“My hat’s off to them,” Hardin said. “They played great defense, they were smart with their block, and we were predictable with our offense. We’ll try and reverse those three things. We have to pass well to be able to run our offense, keep them off balance a little bit more, and we have to make a couple stops on them with some blocks.”

Purdue also had 48 kills in the match, but those kills were evenly dispersed – only freshmen outside hitters Danita Merlau (11 kills) and Kelli Miller (10 kills) were in double digits.

“You can’t defend everyone all the time,” Hardin said. “You try to pick up tendencies. Basic fundamentals have kept us from stopping (the opposing team’s offense).”

Boilermakers setter Renata Dargans is ranked 16th nationally with 13.2 assists per game and garnered two consecutive Big Ten Player of the Week honors earlier in the season.

“She’s key,” Hardin said of Dargans. “(Setting) keeps the opposing offense off balance. If the setting is precise, it allows your hitters to get into a rhythm. It’s really important to have leadership at the setter position, and she gives Purdue that.”

As a team, Purdue is ranked nationally in five different categories: kills per game with 16.69 (13); assists per game with 15.23 (19); team winning percentage at .840 (24); blocks per game with 2.94 (28); and hitting percentage at .259 (29).

Hardin said stopping all those parts of Purdue’s game will be tough, and the Illini will have to battle with the Boilermakers if Illinois hopes to come away with a win.

“You don’t hand them (a win),” Hardin said. “You have to fight for it and take one away from them. They’re a scrappy team with a great setter. They have great leadership, and they’re smart with the ball – they pass well. We have to do something to them. They aren’t going to give us anything.”