Women’s volleyball team starts off winning season

By Lucas Deal

The Illinois volleyball team swept its second consecutive tournament over the weekend, beating Ole Miss, Marquette and Loyola-Chicago at the Marquette Kick-Off Tourney in Milwaukee.

In addition to the sweep, Vicki Brown was named Tournament MVP for the second time in as many weeks as she continues her fantastic early season play. Kayani Turner and Ashley Edinger joined Brown on the All-Tournament team for the second straight week while Lizzie Bazzetta made her first All-Tourney team of 2006.

“It’s great for us just to play well and win the tournament, but for us to also have four players – including our setter and our libero – make the All-Tourney team is really a credit to our team and how they played,” said Illini head coach Don Hardin after the weekend.

The Illini opened the tournament with a 3-1 victory over Ole Miss on Friday afternoon and continued their hot start with a 3-0 win over host Marquette on Saturday and a 3-1 win over Loyola on Sunday.

Hardin said he was very happy with the way his team played defensively throughout the weekend and said he felt that was a main reason for their success.

“Our defense was much more disciplined than it was last weekend (in the State Farm Illini Classic) at Huff Hall,” he said. “Loyola is a very good defensive team and they’ve used their defense and patience to beat us in the past. This weekend we played with them and, defensively, we had more digs than they did.”

Offensively, the Illini posted similar numbers to last week. Brown’s 43 kills were only two less than her performance in the Illini Classic while Kayani Turner’s 47 kills were three more than she had last week.

The biggest improvement Hardin saw was that of his newcomers, including outside hitter Amy Palash. Hardin said Palash played well offensively and defensively and he was impressed by how she handled the pressure of her position.

Hardin was also happy with how his team handled its serving, noting they have improved since last week but still need some work. Illinois has 61 service aces this season compared to only 20 by its opponents.

This is the second consecutive season in which the Illini have opened the season 6-0. Last year, the team’s first loss was a 3-0 defeat to No. 9-ranked Louisville in Las Vegas. The Illini have not opened a season with seven straight wins since they went 8-0 to open the 1997 season.

The Illini will play North Carolina, Wichita State and the College of Charleston in the Glaxo Smith Kline UNC Volleyball Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C., next weekend.