Illini take on rival Redbirds at tourney

By Lucas Deal

Following an offseason full of roster changes, the new-look Illinois volleyball team hits the hardwood tonight for their first official match of the season at 7 p.m. at Huff Hall against non-conference rival Illinois State in the opening match of the State Farm Illini Classic.

The match will be part of the program’s “Stuff Huff” promotion and will feature a barbecue before the match as well as free tickets to the match for all Illinois students who attend. The barbecue will be held on the east side of Huff Hall beginning approximately one hour before game time.

The Illini played their first match of the season last Saturday against volleyball alumni and won 30-21 and 30-27, but 11th year head coach Don Hardin knows the team’s season never really starts until the opening-weekend showdown with the Redbirds. Hardin said he expects a close match.

“I think Illinois State is going to come out fired up; it’s their (season) opener too,” he said. “They play a high level of Division I volleyball and it’s a rivalry game. To have a rivalry this early in a season, you can throw skill level and past records out the window. Both teams will go at it hard.”

In addition to the opening week jitters, tonight’s match will also be the first in an Illini uniform for six team newcomers, including freshman libero Ashley Edinger.

Edinger is excited about getting to play in front of a big crowd, but doesn’t expect to be nervous like some of her counterparts.

“I don’t really think of it as a first game so much, because I think of last week’s alumni match as my first game, but I’m still excited,” she said. “We have some good teams coming in so I’m looking forward to finally playing college volleyball.”

In addition to tonight’s match up with the in-state Redbirds, the Illini will also face reigning Big South Champs Winthrop and Horizon League Champs Wisconsin-Milwaukee during the two-day tournament.

The Illini will face both teams tomorrow; Winthrop at 1 p.m. and UW-Milwaukee at 7 p.m.

“Both Winthrop and UW-Milwaukee are NCAA teams; they’re used to playing in front of big crowds,” Hardin said. “They won’t be intimidated by a Big Ten team like us. I’m also a little concerned about both teams because Friday’s match is such a rivalry we can’t risk having a letdown on Saturday.”

Senior defensive specialist and libero Beth Vrdsky said she agrees with her coach, but that she is really just ready to get out on the court and play.

“We’re ready to get out there and get started,” she said. “When Huff is full it’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever played and I just hope we can fill it up.”