Illini volleyball staying focused in wake of No. 1 ranking

The No. 1 “ranking”: may not mean much to the Illinois volleyball team, but the Illini know it means a lot to their fans.

Head coach Kevin Hambly said he is expecting around 3,000 fans to attend both the Indiana match on Friday and the Purdue match on Saturday at Huff Hall.

“Oh we’re hoping for a great crowd, you know that’s sometimes what the rankings are for — to get publicity — so we’re hoping for a great crowd,” senior Rachel Feldman said. “We always have one, but now I think we’ll have more awareness on the great things we’re doing.”

The Illini (13-0, 2-0 Big Ten) will be in for a battle Saturday night as No. 12 Purdue (14-0, 3-0), paired with Illinois as the only undefeated teams in the Big Ten, returns to Huff for a second time this season. The Boilermakers visited earlier in the season for the “Big Ten/Big East Challenge”:, but never faced Illinois.

Though Purdue is undefeated, Hambly said it doesn’t matter how many wins or losses each team has, it’s going to be a battle.

“If Purdue had five losses and we had seven losses, it’s still going to be a battle just because it’s two teams that are very competitive,” Hambly said. “And Purdue is always tough, our matches are always a grind.”

An advantage Purdue has is more time to prepare, as the Boilermakers defeated Northwestern on Wednesday night, and don’t play again until Saturday. Hambly said the match will essentially come down to who will perform the simple aspects, like passing and serving, better.

The Illini, though, can’t only focus on Purdue, but must prepare for Indiana (8-6, 0-2) on Friday.

“We’re really just worried about Indiana right now,” Hambly said. “Last time we played them at their place, they gave us a beatdown.”

The Hoosiers defeated the Illini in Bloomington, Ind., last season, 3-1, and are returning with left-hander Kelci Marschall, a player Hambly said “tore us up both times last year.”

“I tell our leftys, you don’t have to be as good because you’re just different. It’s like pitching, you don’t have to pitch as hard but it’s just different to look at,” Hambly said. “(Marschall’s) good and being a lefty makes her even better. She has a big arm.”

Though the Purdue match Saturday is more anticipated, the Illini aren’t overlooking Indiana. Junior Annie Luhrsen said the coaches do a good job making sure that doesn’t happen.

“I don’t think we will (overlook Indiana), I think our coaches do a really good job scheduling how we practice,” Luhrsen said. “We’re not really going to focus on the match on Saturday until we take care of the match on Friday.”

And though the top ranking isn’t a focus for the Illini, it’s still an achievement that will likely be in the minds of every player.

“I don’t think that anyone can deny that it’s going to be in the back of your mind, I mean we want to focus on Indiana, but Purdue is the only undefeated team in the Big Ten and they’re going to be gunning for us like no other,” Luhrsen said. “It’s just exciting because we know it’s going to be a really good match.”