No. 5 Illini volleyball to battle Gophers in effort to maintain second-place standing

Illinois’ Erin Johnson (12) and Kylie McCulley (15) attempt to block a hit by a Purdue opponent at Huff Hall on Friday, Oct. 9. Up next, the Illini will host Iowa on Nov. 20.

Illinois’ Erin Johnson (12) and Kylie McCulley (15) attempt to block a hit by a Purdue opponent at Huff Hall on Friday, Oct. 9. Up next, the Illini will host Iowa on Nov. 20.

By Emily Bayci

With just four matches left in the regular season, the No. 5 Illinois volleyball team is hanging on to second place in the Big Ten.

But if the Illini are to edge out No. 12 Minnesota, they can’t afford to make any mistakes.

“We are getting down to the time in the season when we need to have everything worked out in our playing,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “We know that we have to play consistently through every set, and we can’t stop fighting if we want to win every match.”

This weekend the Illini conclude their regular season home schedule, facing Iowa on Friday and Wisconsin on Saturday. The Illini swept the Hawkeyes on Oct. 24 and beat the Gophers in four sets on Oct. 16.

“We are just looking to continue our performances from last time,” said sophomore defensive specialist, Rachel Feldman. “We know that they have gotten better, but so have we.”

The crowds at Huff Hall may be smaller this weekend with everybody going home for Thanksgiving Break, but Feldman thinks the team will still get a large fan showing, especially with it being senior weekend.

Outside hitter Kylie McCulley and libero Ashley Edinger will be honored, both four year members of the team.

“This season has just gone by so fast, and they have done a great job as senior leaders,” junior Hillary Haen said.

“Ashley has such a supportive role on the team, and Kylie has really been a force on the attack. We are going to be really sad to see them go.”

Edinger’s career is already over because of an ACL injury against Purdue on Oct. 31. The starting libero since her freshman year, she ended her career with 1,921 digs — nearly 500 more than any player in Illinois history and ninth in Big Ten history.

Edinger holds three of the top four single-season and six of the top 10 single-match digs records in school history.

“Ashley is the best libero this school has ever seen,” Hambly said.

“She reflected that in nearly every match she played, in her defense and in her attitude.”

McCulley has been a key member of the Illini attack since her freshman year, even sitting out for a significant amount of time her sophomore season due to injury.

McCulley so far tallies in at almost 1,000 kills and 650 digs for her career.

She is also the most recent member of the Ilini 20-20 club after posting 22 kills and 22 digs against Minnesota last season.

For McCulley and the rest of the Ilini squad, the season is not over yet.

They hope to still have more competitions in Huff Hall, as the Illini submitted a bid to host the NCAA First and Second Round.

“We know what we are capable of and know that we just have to keep getting ready for postseason, and it all starts with this weekend, we have to work on being consistent throughout entire matches,” Haen said.