Illini aim for first Big Ten win

Illini aim for first Big Ten win

By Lucas Deal

The Illinois women’s volleyball team was knocked to the proverbial mat with a pair of tough 3-0 losses to Big Ten opponents at Huff Hall over the weekend.

Tonight, however, the Illini will try to get back up.

Illinois (9-3) will face Northwestern (6-5) at 7 p.m. in Evanston as both teams look to win their first match of the 2006 Big Ten season.

Last weekend, the Illini and the Wildcats lost home matches to Wisconsin and Minnesota, respectively, to begin the conference season 0-2.

“They (Northwestern) really fight, especially when we go up there. They really love to fight with us,” said Illini head coach Don Hardin. “And because we’re Illinois, and they’re in Chicago, they feel like they’re protecting their home turf, and they really get fired up against us.”

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    He added, “We have a lot of players who have played against their players in club volleyball, and they want to send a message to us and our players that they don’t lose at home.”

    Hardin said the Illini were unable to hold late leads because they tensed up and struggled receiving serve in high-pressure situations during the weekend matches.

    Hardin said he hopes his team will play better in similar positions tonight, even though Northwestern is one of the better serving teams in the conference.

    “They serve really well. I think they might be the best serving team in the Big Ten,” he said.

    “They’re accurate, and they’re aggressive. We’ll have to defend that,” he added.

    Tonight’s match will also be the first Big Ten road contest for five new Illini players, making the match one of the most nervously exciting dates on the schedule. Hardin said he doesn’t know what to expect from his team.

    “This team has so many new factors. I’m still guessing on what they’re going to do, and I’d be lying to you if I said I knew how they’re going to play,” he said. “We have so many newcomers in the fold, and I’m learning more about them every time we go out.

    “This Big Ten race is kind of new for some of them, and Big Ten play is new, and I don’t know how they’ll respond exactly. I’m hoping they’ll treat it just like every other match. I hope they just keep progressing and start believing in themselves so they can get better and get over the top.”

    After tonight’s match, the Illini will have two days off before hosting the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday evening at Huff Hall.