Illinois volleyball head out east for third weekend of Big Ten play

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Sydney Laput

Opposite/outside hitter Kayla Burbage bumps the ball back to Maryland, the opposing team on Sept. 23. Burbage speaks on the team’s motivation towards beating teams in the top-10 and 25 as Illini head off to face Maryland again on Friday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Big Ten volleyball is heating up. With four matches under its belt, Illinois enters this weekend on the road against Maryland and No. 13 Penn State after two five-set losses to No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 5 Purdue.

These losses haven’t deterred the Illini, but instead motivated them this week in practice. Coming close to beating two teams in the top-10 is no small feat.

“I think Chris (Tamas) says it perfectly: we’re really close to beating these teams in the top-25, or top-10 even,” sophomore opposite Kayla Burbage said. “Purdue’s a favorite to win the national championship and Wisconsin won it last year. We’re hanging with these teams. It’s a matter of a few points at the end.”

Looking towards this weekend, Illinois faces a few problems. Senior outside hitter Jessica Nunge’s injury is still a factor, keeping her out of action for another few weeks. But now joining her on the injury reserve for the next few weeks are senior middle blockers Kyla Swanson and Rylee Hinton.

Hinton hasn’t gotten much playing time since Kennedy Collins’ return, but Swanson’s presence against the Big Ten has been apparent, with 15 blocks so far this season. Illinois will be missing her in the rotation this weekend.

After matching up against Purdue’s star-studded lineup of outside hitters, the focus shifts now for Illinois going into the match against Maryland on Friday. Middle blocker Rainelle Jones is the joint-leader of the NCAA in blocks per set (1.73), meaning the Illini’s offense will need to overpower the defensive prowess of Jones.

Illinois played against Maryland just two weeks ago in its first home match of the season. With just a few matches in between the two’s first meeting, the game plan remains the same for Illinois, who won the match 3-1.

“I think when you play a team like this within a short timeframe, usually you’re not going to do a whole lot different than you did a few weeks prior,” head coach Chris Tamas said. “There’s going to be adjustments made on their end first, so usually we’ll just try to identify (them).”

Against Penn State, on the other hand, Illinois will need to be ready for a bout against a well-rounded unit. The Nittany Lions have only lost two matches so far this season in a sweep against Wisconsin and a sweep against No. 25 Michigan. 

Regardless of these two losses, Penn State is a very versatile unit. The Nittany Lions have taken down No. 18 Oregon and No. 11 Stanford, as well as a sweep over LSU. Coming off two losses in the first two weeks of conference isn’t something the team is used to, and it will be looking for revenge against the Illini.

Action for Illinois begins at 6 p.m. Friday in College Park for Illinois’ second matchup against Maryland this season. The season continues on Sunday with the team’s travels to No. 13 Penn State at noon.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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