Illini volleyball to travel to Billiken Invitational, face No. 3 Stanford



By Kate Munson

Five seasons ago, Saint Louis University head volleyball coach Anne Kordes was an assistant coach at Illinois. This weekend, her team hosts the Billiken Invitational in St. Louis, where Kordes will coach against Illini head coach Don Hardin, her volleyball mentor.

Hardin and Kordes have a history beyond coach-assistant coach, though. Hardin coached Kordes when she was a junior volleyball player.

“She is a dear friend,” Hardin said about Kordes. “I was honored to have her on staff here for five years as my assistant. She’s a great recruiter.

She didn’t recruit any of these current players, but she recruited a lot of former All-Americans. She really made an impact with our program here.”

In fact, Kordes recruited many of the players who led the Fighting Illini to the Sweet 16 in 2003.

This season will be the fifth at Saint Louis for Kordes, and she entered 2008 with a 74-39 coaching record.

In 2006, Kordes led the Billikens to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.

The Billikens enter the invitational with a 3-0 record on the season and are led by junior outside hitter Sammi McCloud, who has accumulated 33 kills and 29 digs in the young season.

Saint Louis is looking forward to facing the tough opponents the Billiken Invitational will bring to town.

“This is the second year we have been able to bring ranked teams into our gym, and there is a lot of excitement among the great volleyball fans in Saint Louis,” Kordes said. “A lot of times, coaches will host easy teams, but I want to bring in the best volleyball we can and play competitive matches.”

Illinois knows that Kordes and her team will try to defend their home court.

“She’s high energy and her team will fight,” Hardin said. “If they’re down and they’re not doing well, she’s not one to sit back and take it easy.”

Hardin also wants to ensure that his team avoids an “emotional letdown” and a loss to an unranked Billikens team after beating ranked opponents last weekend.

Now the Fighting Illini are ranked opponents themselves, securing the No. 19 spot in the nation following their play last weekend.

But the squad will face a major challenge Saturday against No. 3 Stanford.

The Cardinal returns 11 players from last year’s squad that played in the NCAA National Championship match.

They are led by senior Cynthia Barboza, who has 34 kills and 24 digs so far this season.

Stanford head coach John Dunning said it’s hard to tell how good a team will be this early in the season, but his players are looking forward to the challenge they will face in Saint Louis.

“We try to schedule a couple of ways. One, so that our players get to experience different parts of the country, and two we always try to go to tournaments or play teams that are really strong,” Dunning said. “We play in a good conference and we want to be prepared for it.”

In its second match on Saturday, Illinois will face William and Mary.

The Tribe enters the invitational 3-0 on the season after winning the Tribe Invitational last weekend.

Tribe sophomore outside hitter Erin Skipper was named Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week.

The road trip to Missouri will be more like a homecoming for Illini sophomore middle blocker Johannah Bangert, who went to high school in Washington, Mo.

“I’m really excited because I know there will be a lot of people there who have wanted to come and see me play in college, but because of the distance they haven’t been able to,” Bangert said.

The squad is ready to take on the challenges the weekend will bring and prove that it deserves its No. 19 ranking.

“It should be a really good weekend. It should be right in line with last weekend. We just keep on moving up the ladder,” Bangert said.

But for the moment, Hardin is encouraging his team to take the weekend one match at a time.

“Right now, I’m really concerned about Saint Louis. Hopefully we have taken preparation seriously this week,” Hardin said. “Saint Louis is a good team and they are playing at home.

They are opening their new sports arena this weekend with our match.

So you know they are going to have a big crowd and they are going to be trying to commemorate the arena with a win against a ranked opponent.”