Illinois volleyball finishes busy week

 

 

By Anthony Zilis

After losing to bottom feeder Northwestern on Oct. 17, Illinois volleyball proved it can beat almost anyone. The team defeated Michigan State on Friday, finishing a stretch that saw the No. 17 Illini reel off three straight-set victories in a row, including victories over No. 25 Wisconsin and No. 20 Purdue.

But coach Don Hardin thinks the win Friday proves his team has solidified its level of play.

“It was really important for us to take care of business,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t on a roller coaster ride. It was great to take care of business, especially in three (sets).”

Playing so many games in so few days, a casual observer might think the wear and tear would be tough on the Illini. But the constant play has undeniably put the Illini in a groove they haven’t seen all season.

Injured right outside hitter Kayani Turner has watched her team develop from the sidelines for the last few weeks, and she’s definitely noticed something different.

“It just seems – what’s the word for it – comfortable. It doesn’t seem tense. What we talk about is staying in a process and getting better every point, every game, every match and staying in that process we just stay in our level.”

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Libero Ashley Edinger was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. Edinger averaged 5.2 digs per set, 31 total, in the two games last week.

Hardin has raved about his defensive specialist’s stellar play of late, but he doesn’t feel she’s gotten the attention she deserves.

“I think one of the greatest compliments an athlete can get is when they’ve just had an incredible performance and nobody says a word about it. Then you know you’re really getting somewhere,” he said jokingly.

But while playing an unglamorous position – aside from wearing a different colored jersey – Edinger still has the respect of her teammates.

“Ashley goes after every game that we play, even though people don’t think of passers and defensive players as being the star of every game,” Kylie McCulley said. “She comes out playing the same way every game, she plays awesome every game, she goes after it every game, so I think she deserves it.”

The computer wore volleyball shoes

With the topsy-turvy week the Illini had, they managed to move up to No. 6 in Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), a computerized ranking system, and No. 17 overall in the AVCA/NCAA Coaches Poll.

This was news to Illini players; left outside hitter Kylie McCulley had never even heard of RPI.

“We don’t really look at rankings, but if you do look at it, a lot of people say that we could be higher than what we are ranked,” she said. “It’s hard to tell, because we don’t play a lot of the teams that are in the top 10.”

Gophers in Illini crosshairs

With No. 13 Minnesota falling in three sets to No. 18 Michigan on Saturday, the Illini moved to within a game of second place in the Big Ten. The scary part of that equation is that the Illini play Michigan, which is only a game behind them, on Friday.

But even with the surprising upset, McCulley always knew the Illini had the Gophers right where they wanted them.

“I think that Minnesota has always been in our grasp,” she said. “Just because Michigan beat them, I don’t think that changes anything, I think we’ve always thought that Minnesota is realistic for us.”