Illini volleyball sizes up competition for MTSU Invitational


Anna Dorn (5) spikes the ball during the State Farm Illini Classic against Dayton. The Illini were down two sets to zero but came back to win the match 3-2 at Huff Hall on Saturday, Sept 3, 2011. This is filler text where context from the article will go, like how she is one of the tall ones.

By Ros Dumlao

Though the Illini volleyball team may tower over its opponents this weekend, it isn’t quite looking down on them.

Smaller teams bring plenty of speed, and head coach Kevin Hambly is interested to see how his volleyball squad responds this weekend to Middle Tennessee State, Cal-Poly and Tulsa, which combine for one player above 6-foot-3 — Illinois has four.

“These guys are smaller but real athletic … like 6-foot-1, 6-foot,” Hambly said. “These guys are going to try and beat you to places.”

Illinois (6-0) has moved up four spots in polls since the preseason, entering this weekend’s MTSU Invitational in Murfreesboro, Tenn., as the highest-ranked team at No. 4. It faces Middle Tennessee State (2-3) on Friday, and Cal Poly (3-4) and Tulsa (4-3) on Saturday.

Last season, the Illini defeated the Blue Raiders in four sets and caught a good glimpse of what to expect Friday.

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“Middle Tennessee has been a team that totally plays a different style than anyone we’ve played against,” Hambly said. “They’re just so physical, so athletic, and they go up just so fast to the pins. In the middle of the court, they’re doing stuff at a faster pace than we normally play.”

Tulsa, which only has one 6-foot player, was No. 23 in the preseason.

Despite the Illini’s advantage in size and rankings, they’re not taking a weekend off, especially with the conference season approaching.

“All of these teams, Kevin said, have the potential to be really big powerhouse programs, like us,” redshirt freshman Anna Dorn said. “We just need to stay disciplined and take one game at a time, and one match at a time.”

Last weekend, Illinois was challenged to its first five-set match by No. 21 Dayton during the State Farm Illini Classic. The rest of the Illini’s matches at that tournament went into four sets.

“We never go in a weekend where we think we have three wins,” Hambly said. “Especially this year, the competition has been good every weekend. Every team that we’ve played can beat us; we saw that.”

Illinois fought back after being down 0-2 against Dayton, a situation they might revisit when facing Big Ten schools.

“From last week, we learned how to fight back as a team, during a time of adversity,” Dorn said. “I’m just really proud at how our team rebounded after losing those first two sets. I think it really showed what kind of heart we have.”