Illini look to avenge tough ’05 loss

By Lucas Deal

Last season, the University of Iowa women’s volleyball team won only 14 of its 33 matches. Of those 14 victories, only four came during the Big Ten season, and only three came on the road.

But one was at Huff Hall. And it was bad.

The Hawkeyes won a pair of close games early in the match to take a two-game lead. They rallied late in the third game to stun the Illini, 35-33. It was one of Illinois’ worst losses of the season, and the Illini still remember it.

“They (Iowa) beat us pretty bad at home last year. We didn’t play well at all,” Illini head coach Don Hardin said. “We want to get them back this year.”

On Saturday night, the Illini will finally get their chance.

The Hawkeyes will return to Huff Hall for a 7 p.m. rematch against the Illini. The match is Illinois’ only one this weekend, and Hardin said he expects his team to be ready.

“It’s a match we should be prepared for, for obvious reasons,” he said. “But not only that. If we beat Iowa, we could improve to .500 (2-2) in the Big Ten. That would be huge for us.”

The Illini enter the contest at 10-3 overall, 1-2 in the conference. Iowa is 11-3, 0-2 in the Big Ten entering its match tonight at Northwestern. The Hawkeyes lost to Penn State and Ohio State in Iowa City last week.

Illinois enters Saturday’s match coming off an impressive mid-week win at Northwestern on Wednesday. The Illini held the Wildcats to an astonishing .056 hitting percentage in the first game and cruised to a 30-21, 30-23 and 30-27 victory.

Illinois’ blocking, passing and serve receiving led the way in the match, as the Illini wore down the Wildcats with a precise, calculated attack. Four Illinois players recorded at least five digs, and the team had 11 and a half total blocks. Hardin said the match was one of the team’s best performances of the year.

“We played so well because we believed in our system and we believed in our own abilities,” he said. “When we’re confident and believe in how we play, we’re a much better team.”