Illinois embraces road game challenges

By Rachel Spencer, Staff Writer

Balancing a competitive schedule and an intense academic career often involves one more challenging aspect — the reality of road games and all that they entail.

Illinois is on the road this weekend to Minnesota and Wisconsin after consecutive weekends at home. The team’s return to Huff Hall was filled with highs and lows — including two disappointing losses against Nebraska and Wisconsin, but also two victories over Iowa and Northwestern.

With a road game comes the promise of an unfamiliar venue, something assistant coach Alfred Reft always considers when traveling and working with his setters.

“Obviously it’s a different environment, so there’s that component of the uncertain, but a lot of our passers have passed in those environments and are accustomed to being in the Big Ten and that kind of setting,” Reft said. “I think we’re ready. We trained for that, and if we’re not we’ll learn and hopefully get better through that process.”

But for the student-athletes themselves, adding additional pressure to perform — often in front of massive crowds — can be a challenge.

Senior Jordyn Poulter especially recognizes the pressure fans of Minnesota and Wisconsin can put on visiting teams.

“In the Big Ten, being on the road, especially at Minnesota and Wisconsin, they sell out a lot and every single person in that gym wants the other team to win. So it makes for a really energetic environment,” Poulter said. “But being in that foreign territory, you’re a little more exposed and vulnerable to trying to make good plays against really good teams.”

The pressure from road games can extend beyond the gym. After all, the first word in student-athlete is ‘student,’ and the University of Illinois is well-known for its academic rigor.

Now a junior, Jacqueline Quade has learned how to handle expectations on and off the court, even when she spends her weekends on the road.

“I think at this point I’m pretty much used to it,” Quade said. “It’s a lot different when you’re first coming in and everything is pretty new, so I think a lot of us have made that adjustment.”

But spending time off campus isn’t without its adventures; a road game often promises spending the night at a hotel and the opportunity to also focus solely on volleyball.

Sophomore Morgan O’Brien takes particular enjoyment in the challenge of trying to beat another team on their home court.

“I love going on the road. It’s just fun to play someone at their home court because they want to win so much more because they’re in front of their fans, so it’s really fun to go out and compete against them,” O’Brien said.


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