‘Rough weekend’ matches await volleyball

By Lucas Deal

Big Ten volleyball is one of the only sports in the conference in which each team plays every other team twice – at home and on the road.

While this eliminates the fear of a team getting an “easy” or “hard” road schedule, it does not eliminate teams from getting a difficult schedule. Illinois volleyball head coach Don Hardin knows this all too well.

After last weekend’s disappointing losses on the road at Michigan State and Michigan, Hardin had hoped to bring his suddenly injury-plagued team back to Huff Hall this weekend with the chance to get well.

But it turns out the Big Ten scheduling gods don’t seem willing to let that happen.

Nope, instead, this weekend may be arguably the toughest the Illini will have all season as they play host to No. 16 Ohio State (13-3, 3-3 in the Big Ten) and No. 2 Penn State (17-0, 6-0) on Friday and Sunday at Huff Hall.

“This is a rough weekend to be hampered with roster problems, because these are some really good teams,” said Hardin, whose team surprised Ohio State in five games in Columbus last year.

“We have to focus on Ohio State first and hope we have enough left for Penn State,” he added.

Last Thursday, the Illini were 11-3 overall and playing their best volleyball of the season.

They entered the Wolverine state with some lofty goals; they left it in shambles.

“The first night, Michigan State played flawless volleyball. It was their night and they were on,” Hardin said.

“We started to push back in game three and if we could have took that maybe we could have turned the tide and gained some momentum; we just couldn’t get over the hump.

“Sunday, however, was a different story,” he added.

“We played very poorly, made a lot of errors and we weren’t very focused. I think we took a step backwards, which everyone is pretty frustrated about.”

In addition to their poor play, the Illini (11-5, 2-4) were also hit by the injury bug in Michigan.

Outside hitters Kayani Turner, Amy Palash and Stephanie Alde all sat out practices earlier this week with various injuries, and each player is questionable for the weekend.

And with defensive specialist Kristine Anderson already out for the year with a knee injury, Hardin said he is becoming increasingly disturbed by his thinning roster.

“It’s getting really frustrating right now,” he said.

“We want to get on things and work through stuff, but almost half of the starting lineup is unable to practice. It’s hard for us to get back and work on things when key players are out, and they’re out for a couple days,” he added.

Tonight’s match against Ohio State will begin at 7 p.m. Sunday’s match against the undefeated Nittany Lions will begin at 1 p.m.

ILLINI MADNESS SPECIAL OFFER

All Illini volleyball fans who attend tonight’s match against Ohio State will receive free B-section seats to Illinois basketball’s “Illini Madness,” which begins at 9 p.m. at Assembly Hall.

Fans will be escorted from Huff Hall to Assembly Hall immediately following the match.

Students that already have tickets to “Illini Madness” but plan on attending the volleyball match will have a reserved seat as long as they have their ticket.