Illinois volleyball tries to maintain one-loss season

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By Anthony Zilis

The No. 17 Illinois volleyball team heads down south to Tennessee this weekend for the Tennessee Comcast Classic, hoping to make it three consecutive weekends with a winning record at an invitational.

But the Illini, who beat then-No. 11 Oregon and then-No. 23 New Mexico State and lost to then-No. 3 Stanford, won’t have to worry about the high level of competition they faced in the first two weeks.

The team will play three unranked teams – Dayton, Tennessee, and Gardner-Webb – as Illinois tries to keep the game against Stanford its only loss.

But don’t think the Illini are looking past anyone.

“Getting into the Big Ten, if we make the mistake of thinking certain teams aren’t going to be playing as well because they don’t have a ranking, that’ll be the night they kick our butt, so we can’t afford to think that way,” head coach Don Hardin said.

Dayton, which beat fellow top-tier Big Ten team Northwestern last weekend, is a team the Illini surely can’t look past. Illinois was unable to pull out a win against the Flyers last season, so senior setter Lizzie Bazzetta knows her team can’t afford any lapses when the two play Saturday morning.

“We lost to Dayton last year, and they’re consistently a good team, so that’s going to be a good match right off the bat,” she said.

Dayton has received national attention this season, receiving fifteen votes last week in the latest CBS College Sports Network/American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. Despite going 3-0, the Flyers didn’t receive any votes this week for the first time since Aug. 28, 2007.

Tennessee, who the Illini will play later on Saturday, is 3-3 but stayed with Big Ten foe Iowa, losing in four close sets. The Volunteers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak. They will rely heavily on preseason All-SEC outside hitter Nikki Fowler.

Gardner-Webb comes into the tournament with a 2-4 record, its only victories coming against Charleston Southern and Winston-Salem State.

The Illini know their weaknesses from playing such a tough schedule, and have been working on some of the basics, including out-of-position setting, transition attacks and receiving rotations.

Sophomore middle blocker Abby Nelson thinks the Illini need to worry about themselves first.

“We figure if we take care of what we have, then we can start worrying about what other teams have.”