Sweet finale for Hardin

 

 

By Kyle Diller

Change was kind to the Illinois volleyball team this season. For the first time since 2003, the Orange and Blue reached the Sweet 16. However, just as the team of five years ago, the Illini were eliminated before they could book their ticket to the Elite Eight.

Eighth-seeded California brought the Illini’s return to the Sweet 16 to a crashing halt as they swept the Illini in three sets on Friday.

“I think we expected a battle and that’s what we had,” senior Lizzie Bazzetta said following her final game.

The biggest change for the team, however, hasn’t even happened yet. For the Illini faithful, the 2009 season will provide a change they haven’t seen in more than 13 years. When next season gets under way, it won’t be Don Hardin coaching the team.

While his replacement remains unknown, one thing is certain – seeing the Illini play without Hardin on the sideline will be a sight very few fans are used to. Hardin has been a part of the Orange and Blue coaching staff for over half of the program’s 35-year history.

“He has proven to be a very steadying force with our volleyball program,” Sports Information Director Kent Brown said. “Don has certainly left his mark, a very positive mark, on our program.”

While he led his team to the Sweet 16 for the first time in five years, sadly his final journey in the NCAA Championships had to end there as well.

“My enjoyment of the season is not dependant on their wins and losses,” Hardin said. “It’s much more dependent on their attitudes and how they manage themselves on and off the court and how they commit themselves to getting better every day, and they’ve done that”

But after 13 years in charge of the team, saying goodbye can never be easy.

“The commitment to the people and the team and the program and in our close circle in our family of volleyball is something you don’t take lightly,” Hardin said. “When you come to the end of the road with that, it’s really, really challenging and you’ll miss that. That’s what I’ll miss … those relationships.”