Illini hope to build on recent success

Illini hope to build on recent success

By Lucas Deal

Wins seemed to elude the Illini volleyball team a few weeks ago. But after a key victory Saturday, the Illini hope to ride the momentum through this weekend.

At first, the Illini were sitting calmly in the center of the Big Ten standings as they prepared for the second half of their conference schedule.

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Then, after three straight home losses to teams with a combined conference record of 18-24, the Illini found themselves free falling through the conference standings.

And just when things looked like they couldn’t be any bleaker, the Illini pulled off arguably the biggest win of the season in a dramatic four-game classic at Iowa.

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    The team is now re-energized and flying high, riding momentum and confidence they haven’t had since a three-game sweep of No. 23 Ohio State at Huff Hall on Oct. 13.

    This week, the Illini (14-10, 5-9 in the Big Ten) will go to Minneapolis and Madison, Wis., for a pair of tough matches against the Golden Gophers and Badgers.

    Illini head coach Don Hardin hopes the team is still flying high when his team takes to the court this weekend.

    “Both Minnesota and Wisconsin have great teams, so we’ll have to play well to have a chance against them,” he said. “After the Northwestern loss last week, I didn’t know how we would respond (at Iowa).

    “So for us to be able to come back and win that match on the road, after playing so poorly at home and losing three straight, it says a lot about this team. They never quit.”

    Illinois senior defensive specialist Stephanie Obermeier added, “Winning a match like we did at Iowa helps our self-esteem a lot. We know we can play well. Now we have to keep doing it.”

    Minnesota and Wisconsin both swept the Illini in three games during the opening weekend of the conference season on Sept. 22-23 at Huff Hall. Illinois’ defense was problematic in both matches, and Hardin expects a newly revamped lineup to counteract some of both teams’ offensive moves.

    “We’ve worked a lot on blocking recently, and our new lineup is much more focused toward blocking,” Hardin said. “At Iowa, middle blocker Rachel Henderson, who hasn’t even played that much this year, came in and made a statement and won two games for us. If our players can come in and play like that, and we all have confidence in each other to play like that, we can win matches like this.”