Illini prepare for unusual schedule

Usually the Illini volleyball team takes a day of rest following a match.

But after defeating No. 20 Michigan 3-1 on Wednesday night, No. 1 Illinois immediately hit the gym Thursday, preparing for Michigan State’s trip to Huff Hall on Saturday.

“We’ve played three matches in six days, and our bodies are taking a toll,” senior Michelle Bartsch said after Illinois’ win over Michigan. “I think it will be good not to play a match (Thursday), but it will be weird actually going to class and practicing on Friday, which will be a change.”

Wednesday was the Illini’s (18-0, 7-0 Big Ten) first midweek match, opposed to their normal weekend matches.

Instead of taking a day off to restore their bodies and evaluate tape recordings of the match against the Wolverines, the Illini will have light practices until Saturday.

“It’s interesting; we’re not used to this,” head coach Kevin Hambly said of the short preparation time. “We’ve done it twice a year before. We actually have four matches with some time in between (this season), and that’s different for us. I think three matches in six days is a lot.”

Though they hadn’t scouted the Spartans (14-4, 3-3)until late in the week, the Illini have a few expectations based on the last time they faced each other.

“They’re big and fast, and I think they’re one of the most physical teams in the Big Ten,” Bartsch said. “Be prepared for a big block like Penn State.”

Illinois defeated Michigan State in both matches last season.

Michigan State leads the conference in blocks, with 2.72 per set. Penn State ranks third with 2.66, while Illinois is fourth with 2.65.

Lately, redshirt freshman Anna Dorn has made her presence known on the block for the Illini, posting double-digit block assists in the last two matches.

Together with freshman Liz McMahon, Dorn had 17 team blocks to stop Michigan.

“Communication is key for us,” Dorn said. “We call out the hitters. I think we’re finding a really good rhythm, especially when you go up and block together.”

“They have a middle that’s giant, that’s really, really high, and it’s going to be hard to adjust to that,” Dorn added about Michigan State.

While Dorn has been on fire at the block, the Spartans have their own defensive weapon with sophomore Alexis Mathews, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten in blocks per set with 1.33. Mathews is behind Dorn, who has 1.34.

The Illini said they will have to bring the same defensive effort from Wednesday night into Saturday.

“They’re dangerous, and they’re really physical,” Hambly said of Michigan State. “That’s the cornerstone of our team, is applying defense. It’s what we focus on in practice. It’s what we spend the most time on.”