Illini look to spike No. 2 Penn State

By Meghan Montemurro

Coming off two big road victories, including an upset of No. 11 Minnesota, the Illinois volleyball team looks to continue its composed play as it welcomes No. 2 Penn State and Ohio State to Huff Hall this weekend.

The Illini have had tremendous success on the road this season and in Big Ten play have gone 4-1. One area they will look to improve on will be their 0-3 home conference record.

“We haven’t had as much success with home games as far as our record goes so just to come off of those two away wins and coming in with a plan that we need to protect our home court,” senior Vicki Brown said. “It would be awesome to start that this weekend.”

Illinois expects to put up a good fight against the Nittany Lions. Last season against Penn State, Illinois played some of its best volleyball and expects to do that again this time around.

“It’s going to be a really big fight,” freshman Laura DeBruler said. “I know that our team is going to come out fighting, and it’s going to be a really good game.”

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Despite Penn State leading the all-time series 30-8, the Illini won three of five matches from 2001 to 2003.

Both defenses will have their hands full Friday night. DeBruler is now second in the nation for freshmen in kills per game with 4.75 and is also second in the Big Ten with 4.67 kills per game during conference play behind Indiana hitter Erica Short.

One area head coach Don Hardin will focus on is the play of the Nittany Lions’ outside hitters, led by junior Nicole Fawcett and sophomore Megan Hodge.

Penn State’s lineup is part of the reason it is second in the nation.

“Fawcett and Hodge get a lot of attention, but they are deep at every position,” Hardin said. “They are very talented at every position.”

With what is expected to be an emotional game regardless of the outcome, Illinois will have a day off before its Sunday afternoon contest against Ohio State.

After being ranked early this season, the Buckeyes have struggled to a 2-6 record in conference play. Illinois, though, will not be taking them lightly.

“(We’re) not underestimating them because in the past they have always gotten their stuff together in time for our match traditionally,” Hardin said. “They played us well here at home, and while they haven’t had good success lately, they have a lot of talent, and they could quickly find their rhythm.”