Volleyball team readies for ‘Stuff Huff’ opener

By Meghan Montemurro

With two tournaments under its belt, the Illinois volleyball team prepares for the home opener at Huff Hall against Marquette University as part of the State Farm Illini Classic.

After two near upsets against now-ranked Dayton and LSU, Illinois prepares for a packed crowd as part of Stuff Huff’s goal to pack the gym with more than 3,000 fans. Head coach Don Hardin said the team has been looking forward to the game and hopes the crowd plays in its favor. Sophomore Ashley Edinger agreed.

“It’s our first real home game and we are excited getting everyone to come out and support us,” Edinger said. “We want to put on a good show for everyone and just have fun and play.”

As the season progresses, Illinois will look to stay healthy. Sophomore outside hitter Kylie McCulley’s status for the tournament is questionable after having an MRI taken of her foot and ankle. This may affect the rotation and force Hardin to use the traditional 5-1 lineup with one setter instead of his preferred 6-2 with two setters. Hardin said he will stick with the setter who has performed the best in practice.

Freshman Laura DeBruler has been a principal option for Illinois on offense and continued to improve since the opening tournament.

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“I’ve really learned different skills and different ways that can make me better on passing and different shots I’m hitting,” DeBruler said.

Consistency will be the main theme of the weekend due to the youth of the squad. Hardin said the team will need to focus its attention without worrying about the outcome.

“All we need to do right now is keep learning, keep getting better, and stay healthy,” Hardin said. “Those are our focal points.”

Illinois’ first opponent, Marquette, will pose a challenge for the Illini with their scrappy and quick defense balanced with a veteran team. The Illini will have to change up their attack of hitting high and outside with Marquette being able to defend that option well. Ball control will be the key for Illinois, Hardin said.

Depending on who wins and loses, Illinois will face either Tennessee or Creighton on Saturday afternoon. Both teams pose significant challenges.

“What worries me is they’ve got great attacking at the net,” Hardin said. “We have to be able to stop that and control that, and historically that’s been our problem, but we’re getting better at it.”

Both squads are experienced and will likely not be influenced by the atmosphere. However, whichever team plays Illinois will have to get past a determined team focused on winning the tournament.

“We want to win the tournament,” DeBruler said. “Playing as a team and passing will be the key.”