Illini rebound to win match

Illinois outside hitter, Kylie McCulley, takes an open shot during the game against Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville at Huff Hall on Sept. 19. Erica Magda

Illinois outside hitter, Kylie McCulley, takes an open shot during the game against Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville at Huff Hall on Sept. 19. Erica Magda

By Anthony Zilis

The Illini volleyball team has proved it is a resilient bunch this season, going 5-2 in matches after losing the first set.

But there is a concerning side to that statistic – the No. 20 Illini have lost seven first sets in only 13 games.

“Every team has a personality, some teams are front-runners,” Illini coach Don Hardin said. “We like to feel out the opponent (in the first set).”

Maybe the team just needs a little caffeine before the first serve because junior Kylie McCulley doesn’t believe the Illini come out with enough fire.

“I think we come out a little too calm and sometimes it takes until after the first set to pick it up,” the outside hitter said.

To do so, the Illini will have to pull a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and change their on court personality in the opening set before its too late.

“Giving them that head start, it’s a dangerous path,” Hardin said.

Illini eat, sleep, play volleyball

After the Illini won a hard-fought game in Indiana on Friday, there was not much time to rest. It was off to Penn State on Saturday – the same university the Illini football team was preparing to play that night.

Because the game couldn’t take place at the same time as the football game, a choice had to be made: either play on Sunday or play at three in the afternoon on Saturday. The latter option was chosen.

It would’ve been easy for the Illini to start the match with a lackluster first set, but they were ready for the No. 1 team in the nation.

“We came out with a plan and made it a really good game in the early phases,” Hardin said.

Illinois was unable to hang on, though, losing the set 25-16 and eventually the match as well.

News Flash: Penn State is best

McCulley was so impressed with the Nittany Lions on Saturday that she couldn’t put into words exactly what makes them so great.

“They’re No. 1 for a reason, it’s hard to explain (what that reason is), they’re just really good,” she said.

Nonetheless, the Illini weren’t intimidated by a team that returned every starter and four All-Americans from last season.

“If we work on a few things, we can do even better (next time),” libero Ashley Edinger said.

Cooling Hoosiers no eaasy task

Even though Indiana wasn’t ranked going into Friday’s match, the Illini knew to expect a hard-fought match.

“We knew right off the start it was going to be a dogfight,” Edinger said.

In the opening night of Big Ten play, McCulley knew the Hoosiers would be in the right mindset in their attempt to grab their first win against a ranked opponent, as she said Indiana was “expecting a win against us.”

Indiana had won eight of their previous 10 matches heading into the weekend but lost to No. 19 Purdue after falling to No. 20 Illinois, both at home.