Illini to seek revenge against 2 Big Ten foes

Illini to seek revenge against 2 Big Ten foes

By Lucas Deal

The Illinois volleyball team begins the second half of its daunting Big Ten schedule this weekend when it hosts Michigan and Michigan State tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m. at Huff Hall.

The Illini enter tonight’s match against the Wolverines with a 13-7 overall record and are 4-6 in the conference. Michigan is 16-7 with a 3-7 conference mark while Michigan State has the same record as the Illini.

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Such equal competition makes both matches crucial for the Illini if they hope to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.

“We need to play well down the stretch to realistically have a shot,” Illini head coach Don Hardin said. “If we could get to 20 wins, with the schedule we’ve had and the league we play in, I think it would be hard for the NCAA to keep us out. If we can’t do that, we leave (our chances) up to the committee and then things get kind of dicey.”

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    In early October, Illinois fell 3-0 to the Spartans and 3-1 to the Wolverines in a pair of tough road matches. While Hardin said he was extremely disappointed by both losses, he was more accepting of the Michigan State loss because the Spartans played so well.

    Michigan State outside hitter Katie Johnson hit .475 and had 24 kills in the match, while the Spartans hit an astonishing .402 as a team.

    As for the Michigan loss, that was another story.

    “We didn’t play well that night,” Hardin said. “We really struggled and it showed. However, we’ve been playing better recently and I’d like to think that will continue.”

    The Illini hope to exact revenge on both teams this weekend, but may be forced to do it shorthanded.

    Illini outside hitter Kayani Turner has missed two of Illinois’ last four matches with a nerve injury in her leg and is questionable for this weekend. If Turner can not play, freshman Kylie McCulley will start in her place.

    Turner said she hopes to play, but is unsure as to whether or not she will be able to bear the pain long enough to finish an entire match.