Illini volleyball looks for revenge against Buckeyes

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Illinois’ Danielle Davis serves the ball during the volleyball game against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday. “It’s going to be another battle just like it was last time,” said Davis, on Illinois’ match today against Ohio State. In early October, the Illini dropped a five-set match to the Buckeyes.

For Kevin Hambly, the last time the Illinois volleyball team played Ohio State feels like an eternity ago.

The Illini’s head coach might feel that way in part because of the changes Illinois has made since it last played the Buckeyes. Since the Illini dropped a five-set match in early October to the Buckeyes, Illinois has switched rotation systems from the 6-2 to the 5-1, won eight of the last nine matches and moved into third place in the Big Ten standings. But while Illinois has undergone changes for the better, so has Ohio State.

Illinois will have a chance to prove that it has become the better of the two teams Wednesday at Huff Hall when the Illini and the Buckeyes square off for the second time.

“We’re a different team. We’re better than we were then,” Hambly said. “They’re a different team and I think they’re better than they were then too. We look at these rematches as more of a whole new match rather than focusing on what happened in the past.”

Since the teams last met, Ohio State has gone 6-3 and garnered a top-25 ranking.

Although it would be easy for the Illini to dwell on the fact that they dropped the fifth set to the Buckeyes by giving up six unanswered points after building a 14-10 lead, the team is treating the contest like it’s against any other Big Ten team

While not much remains the same for either team on the offensive side of the ball, Illinois will still need to slow down Ohio State’s fast tempo.

“Ohio State runs a lot of different combinations, so it’s really important for the blockers, front line, to be really focused with our eye work,” junior opposite side hitter Ali Stark said. “(We’re trying to) make things as simple as possible and not get caught up in all the routes that they’re running.”

Last time, Buckeyes senior outside hitter Erin Sekinger led Ohio State with 15 kills. Junior outside hitter Elizabeth Campbell and sophomore middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe each added 14 kills.

Davis said Illinois has put in extra work on stopping slide hitters like Sandbothe from getting loose and scoring basically at will.

“From that week on, we focused a lot on defending the slide,” Davis said. “Jocelynn (Birks) and (Morganne Criswell) are both great blockers down the line. It was a defensive thing and we corrected that in practice.”

Trailing first-place Wisconsin by two games in the Big Ten standings, the Illinois fate is out of its hands. Even if they win out, they will need some help to gain ground on the Badgers and second-place Penn State. Illinois is turning its attention not only to the upcoming Ohio State match but also the NCAA tournament.

“This is the grind part of the season where you’ve got to embrace it and keep working and try to get better,” Hambly said. “This is where you figure out if you can win the whole thing.

“This is when you can make some gains over everyone else.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @IlliniSportsGuy.