Weekend volleyball matches offer chance to prepare for Big Ten season

Sophomore setter Lizzie Bazzetta gets under a hit during practice on Wednesday. Adam Babcock The Daily Illini

Sophomore setter Lizzie Bazzetta gets under a hit during practice on Wednesday. Adam Babcock The Daily Illini

By Jessica Warchall

Illinois looks to continue its 6-0 start to the season tonight as it faces North Carolina at the Glaxo Smith Kline UNC Volleyball Classic. On Saturday the Illini will face Wichita State and the College of Charleston.

“Each weekend the teams have been a step up and a step forward in our competitive challenge,” head coach Don Hardin said.

In its 2005 regular season, the College of Charleston finished 30-1, and Hardin said the team returns a lot of players in its lineup. Wichita State has started the season 6-1, with its only loss to No. 25 Kansas State.

“We’re excited to go to the tournament because it will give us more opportunities to prepare for the Big Ten,” senior middle blocker Meghan Macdonald said. “It’s really nice to have those wins under our belt, but we’re not where we want to be right now.”

Even though the Illini lead the Big Ten in aces (2.9 per game) and rank 13th nationally in aces, Hardin said the team needs to get its serving back on track.

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“Our aggressive serving is high risk now, but as it levels out at power speed we can beat teams that out-match us at the net,” Hardin said.

During last weekend’s tournament victory, Hardin said his team was not serving aggressively during the first two matches but got “back on track” during the last match against Loyola. Junior middle blocker Vicki Brown said the Illini need to increase their competitive level. They want teams to try to reach their playing level rather than have Illinois play at its opponents’ level.

Brown said one of their team goals is to earn wins by entering the court with a winning mentality. She has helped the team to a winning season, ranking 15th in the nation with a .462 hitting percentage. Brown’s consistent attacking has earned her the MVP title in both of the Illini’s tournament victories.

“If I were a volleyball fan, I would love watching (Vicki Brown) play because she’d be an inspiring player,” Hardin said. “She’s tireless.”

Hardin said playing stronger teams this weekend will help them prepare for Big Ten action.

“We’re much less concerned about remaining undefeated and much more concerned about being prepared for the Big Ten,” Hardin said. “The teams this weekend will be a challenge. It will be interesting to see if we can pull them off one by one. We’ll know a lot more about ourselves after this weekend.”