Illinois volleyball to face conference-leading Wisconsin

The Illinois volleyball team prefers to play on the road.

Although Huff Hall is one of the best environments in the country, it comes with a sense of pressure with the Illini fans living and dying with every point.

“People don’t realize how hard it is to play at home sometimes,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “It’s fun to play here but they prefer to play on the road.

“I know as a staff, we like it better. We don’t have recruits, we don’t have anything, we just go play. I think the team feels the same way. It’s not like we’re programmed them that way, but they’ve told me they like playing on the road.”

The No. 10 Illini (21-6, 13-3 Big Ten) will presumably be comfortable when they hit the road to face No. 2 Wisconsin (24-2, 14-1) on Wednesday in a top-10 showdown.

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As Hambly alluded to, Illinois has had success on the road this season. The Illini are the first team since 1991 to win on the road against Nebraska and Penn State in the same season.

Illinois faced Wisconsin on Oct. 4, and the Badgers took the match in four sets. The Illini were still in a 6-2 offense, and posted 20 errors as a team.

“We didn’t play to our strengths the first time around,” Hambly said. “We didn’t play physical. I thought we played kind of passive and got caught up in the fact they were digging everything.”

The Badgers currently sit atop the Big Ten standings as they have won 15 consecutive matches.

Hambly called Wisconsin setter Lauren Carlini “the best setter in the league,” along with Penn State’s Micha Hancock. Carlini tore up the Illini and flirted with a triple-double in the teams’ first meeting as she posted 42 assists, 13 digs and seven kills.

“They’re playing the best ball, consistently,” Hambly said. “They’re just playing the cleanest, not making as many errors. They’re taking care of the details better than some teams. The margins are thin and when you do those things, you win a lot of matches.”

Senior outside hitter Morganne Criswell is expected to play after missing the team’s Sunday match against Rutgers with a left knee injury. Hambly said that the team was going to be cautious with Criswell, to keep her healthy going into the tournament.

“I think where we stack up well with them is that we’re better than a lot of teams,” middle blocker Anna Dorn said. “We’ll have to hang our hats on our defense.”

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @steve_bourbon.