Illinois volleyball needs big wins to contend with elites in Big Ten



By Anthony Zilis

The No. 19 Illinois volleyball team heads into the third weekend of conference play with an average record of 2-2 in the Big Ten. With No. 1 Penn State and No. 13 Minnesota already pulling away with perfect 4-0 starts, the Illini know how crucial it is to come out of Michigan and Ohio State with victories.

“That would be huge for us. Right now there’s a lot of teams right in the middle of the Big Ten, it’s a big weekend to distinguish ourselves as a team that can be up at the top of the Big Ten,” senior setter Lizzie Bazzetta said.

And as one of five ranked teams in the conference, Illinois is a target for many teams looking for a big win.

“Each time a team comes out there, especially this year because we’re kind of making a name for ourselves, to beat us,” outside hitter Laura DeBruler said.

After suffering a loss two weekends in a row, the Illini need the two wins for their mental health as much as anything else.

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“It’ll be tough for us but I definitely think it can be a confidence booster if we can pull them out,” Bazzetta said.

Players to Watch

The Illini defense will have to adjust in Ann Arbor, with Preseason All-Big Ten setter Lexi Zimmerman lurking on the other side of the net.

“She’s a great setter, someone we’re going to have to look out for, attack, and run maybe a more complex system,” Bazetta said.

Going up against one of the top players at her position, Bazzetta’s not intimidated.

“I don’t think it’s more of a competition or motivation or anything like that,” she said.

Opponents may face the continued implementation of the “true” 6-2 formation with Hillary Haen staying in to play on the front line. Coach Don Hardin said that if his team keeps winning while right outside hitters Kayani Turner and Nicole Kump are sidelined with injuries, he may have to think about using the 6-2 for the rest of the season.

Injury update

Kayani Turner continues to suffer from an ankle sprain that she suffered in a bicycle accident. Trainer Randy Ballard said the injury wouldn’t be so significant for most other players. But with Turner’s same leg affected by reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), a nerve disorder which causes chronic pain, the pain is intensified.

There is no timetable for the injury.

Nicole Kump suffered a stress reaction in the fourth metatarcel of her foot. She may be back within the month.

Haen will continue to play in the front row, for Kump, alternating with freshman Michelle Bartsch as right outside hitter.

Abby Nelson’s hip and knee injuries will most likely be an issue for the rest of the season, but for now it won’t keep her off the court.