Volleyball veterans to lead freshmen

By Meghan Montemurro

Dreams. Ambition. Hard work. Enthusiasm. For 15 players, a new season represents a new challenge.

Fresh off tough preseason workouts and welcoming the sixth-ranked recruiting class in the nation, the Illini look to put an injury-riddled .500 season behind them and focus on the bright future that is the Illinois volleyball program.

Head coach Don Hardin, entering his 11th season at Illinois, said with the balance of newcomers and returnees, the team will compete and make their presence known in the Big Ten. One area of concern the past two years was the lack of depth. With six freshmen, Hardin said those new to the team will have the opportunity to play.

“There is no question that the freshmen will play,” Hardin said. “The only question is how many will play and how much playing time they will get.”

The schedule, however, is not kind to the Illini.

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The first six games of the season take place on the road before returning to Huff Hall for the State Farm Illini Classic. Junior setter Lizzie Bazzetta said road games always present a challenge.

“These are huge games for us because they will help us learn how to find a way to do it on the road, which will be important during the Big Ten season,” Bazzetta said.

An added plus for the Illini is the additional time to work on technique and details. The team stayed on campus during summer to work out, and Bazzetta said the team was able to go into preseason in better shape, creating extra time to practice.

For three seniors, this season represents the last opportunity to leave their mark on the program. Outside hitter Stefanie Alde said it is strange and bittersweet, but added this season presents the team the chance to rise to the top half of the Big Ten.

With a new mindset and vision, the newcomers will look to challenge the returnees for positions and bring competition.

“They will make everyone better and improve by pushing and making people work harder,” Bazzetta said.

With the spotlight on the freshman class, Hardin said the next two recruiting classes have already established themselves to be more exciting, establishing a bright and promising future for Illinois volleyball.