Volleyball team braces for Big Ten

Senior Meghan Macdonald (4) watches as junior Stephanie Alde (9) spikes the ball at a wall of blockers during a game against the University of Dayton at Huff Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 12. John Paul Goguen The Daily Illini

Senior Meghan Macdonald (4) watches as junior Stephanie Alde (9) spikes the ball at a wall of blockers during a game against the University of Dayton at Huff Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 12. John Paul Goguen The Daily Illini

By Jessica Warchall

Illinois volleyball hopes to improve on its 9-1 season as it begins conference play this weekend. The Illini will face the Badgers (9-2) at Huff Hall tonight at 7 p.m. followed by the Golden Gophers (6-4) on Saturday.

In addition to the excitement of beginning Big Ten play, head coach Don Hardin said the timing could not be worse.

“We’ve been preparing to face these Big Ten teams,” Hardin said, “but we wished we would have had our full squad out there to do it.”

The Illini’s sophomore defensive specialist Kristine Anderson is out for the season with a tear to the ACL in her right knee.

Hardin said senior setter Stephanie Obermeier is playing more back row to fill in for Anderson.

Junior outside hitter Amy Palash was also out of practice this week due to a knee injury, but she is cleared to play this weekend.

“Before this last (injury) we were ready to upset some of the best teams,” Hardin said. “Now it remains to be seen how much fight we have in us.”

Another change in the lineup is freshman outside hitter Kylie McCully.

Hardin said the team has wanted to try out McCully in the lineup because of her athleticism.

Hardin said it will be exciting for the fans to see what she is capable of.

Sophomore setter Lizzie Bazzetta said the team is comfortable with the new lineup because the nine days without competition have allowed it plenty of practice.

Illinois’ practice time will pay off. Hardin said Wisconsin’s 9-2 record is different from Illinois’ 9-1 because Wisconsin has played top ranked teams this season and is a legitimate Top 10 team.

“Wisconsin is known for its blocking and serving and they could really give us a lot of trouble,” Hardin said. “I think they’re coming in here to avenge some losses from previous years.”

Hardin also said that Minnesota’s record is deceiving because several of its losses occurred when they had two players ineligible earlier in the year for NCAA violations.

Since volleyball is the only sport to play a double round robin – 20 conference games – Hardin said there is plenty of time to recover if his team falls short due to its injuries.

Senior defensive specialist Beth Vrdsky said she is excited to see how Illinois fares against other Big Ten teams.

Hardin said his focuses are to support his team as it begins the conference season and to be competitive on every point his team is on the court.

“Even with the problems that have occurred, we’re excited to kick off the Big Ten,” Hardin said.

“A lot of people assumed us to be down and we’re not that far down,” he added. “It’ll be interesting to see, with the injuries, if we’re able to hold up; we’re definitely going to show a fighting attitude.”