Illini need pair of wins to move above .500

Illinois´ Beth Vrdsky cuts off Stephanie Obermeir to bump the ball during the match against Purdue on Wednesday night, Nov. 16 at Huff Hall. Adam Babcock

Illinois´ Beth Vrdsky cuts off Stephanie Obermeir to bump the ball during the match against Purdue on Wednesday night, Nov. 16 at Huff Hall. Adam Babcock

By Lucas Deal

Despite a year full of obstacles and injuries which easily could have destroyed its season, the Illinois volleyball team enters this weekend needing two wins in its final three matches to finish the season with a winning record.

Considering what they’ve been through, head coach Don Hardin would see that as a remarkable achievement.

“We would love to have a .500 record or better at the end of the year, because with everything we’ve gone through it would really be quite an accomplishment,” he said. “I think that would really be a testament to the will of our girls.”

The Illini lost middle blocker Jen Hynds to a season-ending leg injury before the season and have also been without senior Rasa Virsilaite and freshman Rachel Henderson for significant time. Last week, when the team was finally appearing healthy, freshman outside hitter Kayani Turner suffered a stress fracture in her right leg. She is now done for the year.

“We’ve been through so much for so long,” Hardin said. “We just want to end the season on a winning note.”

The Illini are coming off arguably their biggest win of the year, a five-set victory over No. 18-ranked Purdue at Huff Hall on Wednesday.

Senior Rachel VanMeter led the Illini in the match, tying a career high with 39 kills on an Illinois record 99 attempts.

VanMeter now has 600 kills on the season, the second best season in school history. Only Erin Borske’s 714 kills in 1995 ranks higher.

Illinois will host Indiana on Friday and then have a week off before traveling to Minnesota and Iowa for the season finale.

At 14-14 (5-12 in the Big Ten), Hardin thinks Wednesday’s victory could propel the Illini to finish the season on a positive note. And even though the Illini lost to Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa last month, Hardin said his team is good enough to win every match.

“We had a very good practice Thursday,” Hardin said. “We’ve needed to make some changes in our serve receive and our defense because of Kayani’s injury, but I think we’re getting better at making changes because we’ve had to make so many.”

He added, “We can win these matches, but we very easily could have a let down after a win like Wednesday so we need to be prepared.”

One thing is for sure, Hardin said he can definitely count on his girls to play hard, no matter where they are or what their record is.

“Wednesday’s win was a credit to the adversity of our players, they don’t go down without a fight,” he said. “We’ll definitely fight here at the end no matter where we’re playing because our girls aren’t bothered by where they play. When you’ve had to go through as much as we have, where you’re playing really isn’t much of a priority.”