Volleyball determined to keep Dayton’s ‘middles out of the game’

Following its sweep of IPFW on Thursday night, the Illinois volleyball team will now match up against Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Following its sweep of IPFW on Thursday night, the Illinois volleyball team will now match up against Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Dayton overcame Milwaukee in five sets in the first round to advance to a showdown with the Illini.

“They won in five so they’re going to be really ready to play tomorrow,” junior Johannah Bangert said. “They have some big players. They have good middles, so we’re going to have to really make sure that we’re just throwing the ball down well on our side and make sure we’re winning the serve-pass battles so that we can try to keep their middles out of the game.”

The Flyers (30-3) went undefeated at home this season as they made a run to become conference champions of the Atlantic 10. Dayton won’t let Illinois’ national fifth seed affect the way it approaches the game though.

“I don’t think we’re going to reinvent anything,” Dayton head coach Kelly Sheffield. “There’s not enough time for that. We’re just going to have to sharpen it up and play a little bit better.”

A win over Dayton would send Illinois to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year. The Illini have never advanced to the Elite Eight in the history of the program.

IPFW goes down in style

Illinois went into its first-round match against IPFW expecting to benefit from the advantage of hosting the first and second rounds. However, a sea of Mastodon blue generated an ever-present source of noise, rivaling that of the home supporters.

A particular group of loyal IPFW fans even decided to leave their shirts at home, instead donning blue wigs and capes. There were no pants in sight either, but rather towels used as kilts. One fan even with came with a blue and silver satin pirate-like coat.

“I was surprised. They had a really good student section show up tonight,” Bangert said. “We’re used to that from on the road. All the Big Ten schools, they’re crazy. But it makes it more fun I think. It gives it a little energy I guess.”

Despite the creativity and dedication of the Mastodon support braving the December weather shirtless, the Spike Squad fought back with its own undying chanting and support, while the band generated a home feel with a variety of Illini anthems.

“Huff Hall is always an advantage,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “This is a very tough place to play. Most teams aren’t used to having people this close to them either. Also, the energy in this gym is amazing.”

Illinois will have the support of their home crowd again tonight in its second round matchup against Dayton. The question remains though — will the Flyers manage to rival the support the Mastodons produced Thursday?