Volleyball will try to even mark


Stefanie Alde spikes the ball against Washington on Sept. 19. Erica Magda

By Meghan Montemurro

It was a tough Big Ten opening week for the Illinois volleyball team, facing two top-10 teams in No. 9 Wisconsin and No. 10 Michigan and coming up just short in both. The Illini will look to reverse their fortune this weekend and work their way to .500 in Big Ten play against Michigan State and Northwestern.

Illinois expects a fight against both teams and head coach Don Hardin said that by the end of the season the Spartans or the Wildcats could be ranked.

In their continuing quest to gain respect in the Big Ten, the Illini will need to come away 2-0 this weekend.

“It’s all going to be about finishing – we’re right there,” said sophomore libero Ashley Edinger. “We just need one more step, but we’re heading in the right direction.”

Facing two teams in two days raises some concern for the coaches because two different game plans will be used against the teams, which may be confusing or prove difficult to learn for the younger players.

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Michigan State boasts some of the best left side hitting in the Big Ten, led by outside hitter Katie Johnson. The Spartans are also 4-0 at home this season, presenting the Illini with another difficult road test.

“We are going to have to take the momentum away from the left side with well-timed blocks,” Hardin said. “We’ve made improvements with our block and if we are going to get several of them we need to get them at the right time.”

Northwestern’s game plan is similar to Wisconsin’s with passing keying its success, especially in the serve-receive game. Senior Vicki Brown said it will be important for the team to take the lessons it learned from playing the top teams and using them this weekend.

Illinois has had ample time to prepare for the games, having a week off after playing two games in three days. The Illini feel confident going into the weekend.

“We’re still learning about each other, but I think we are still learning where we are as a team,” Hardin said. “If we come out with a positive attitude and play hard and fight for the victories, we can get them.”

After injuries plagued the team the last few seasons, Illinois has been able to stay relatively healthy.

The Illini hope sophomore outside hitter Kylie McCulley can make a return to the lineup next week, making the offense even more dynamic.

The Illini open up the weekend at Michigan State at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and follow it with Northwestern at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Evanston, Ill.