Volleyball anticipating different Wisconsin team heading into midweek match

Much has changed since the No. 6 Illinois volleyball team defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in four sets Sept. 29.

The Illini have dealt with injuries and were forced to change their lineup while the Badgers were in the middle of what turned out to be a seven-match losing streak and have also since experimented with different people on the floor.

The two squads will face off Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Huff Hall in a Big Ten matchup. Illinois (19-3, 11-1 Big Ten) leads the conference standings by two matches while Wisconsin (14-9, 3-9) is tied for ninth with Michigan State.

“Last time we played them I remember them having really good outsides, girls that can hit really hard and hit really good,” freshman libero Jennifer Bonilla said. “I’m excited to play them and see what’s different about them, because of course everybody has a different game plan and improves, so it’s interesting to see how the teams look.”

Bonilla’s play at the pivotal libero spot could be the difference in the match. Illini head coach Kevin Hambly said the four-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week will be forced to dig out balls and pass well as the defensive scheme forces more shots to go her way.

In the previous matchup against the Badgers, Hambly said Bonilla struggled with her passing game but hopes the experience from the last match will help her this time around as much as it helped her in last Friday’s match against Michigan.

“Against Michigan she didn’t play good defense against Lexi (Zimmerman) and she owned that match this time,” Hambly said. “I hope that bodes well for the Wisconsin match because they’re gonna come after her and attack her.”

Spearheading the Wisconsin roster this time around is senior outside hitter Allison Wack, who leads the team with 243 kills and averages 3.08 of them per set. She contributes on the defensive end as well, averaging two digs and 0.34 blocks per set.

“Wack has been on fire,” Hambly said. “We’ll have a plan for her. Last time we put Michelle Bartsch on her and that worked out pretty well.”

The Illini will not only have to rely on Bonilla defensively, but a solid block as well. Illinois has had at least 10 total team blocks in three of the last five matches and has also seen great improvement since sophomore middle blocker Erin Johnson returned to the lineup after having an illness.

Johannah Bangert, who won the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, said putting up a good block was just a matter of seeing what the opposing team was doing offensively and then making a great effort.

“It’s gonna be about just being disciplined in my block and making sure that I’m waiting and really reading the setter and working my butt off to go and close that block,” Bangert said. “Their main hitters are their outsides, so it’s gonna be really important that I go and close with our right side blocker so I take that seam away and make it easier on our defense.”