Illini trying to avoid trap game against Iowa

Heading into Wednesday’s match against Iowa, the Illinois volleyball team is facing a potential trap game.

After a upset win at then-No. 5 Penn State and a trip to No. 13 Nebraska this weekend, the Illini are now focused on avoiding a misstep against Iowa.

The Hawkeyes (8-9, 0-6 Big Ten) have dropped six straight conference matches — seven overall — and haven’t won a set since Sept. 13. Illinois has beaten Iowa in 15 straight matches.

Senior Morganne Criswell is making sure the team isn’t overlooking anyone.

“Everybody in the Big Ten is good,” Criswell said. “Iowa is actually looking pretty good this year, even though they don’t really have the record to prove it.”

The Hawkeyes are led by a pair of seniors. Alex Lovell leads the team with 163 kills on the outside and middle blocker Alessandra Dietz is Iowa’s most efficient hitter at .325.

One of the biggest changes for the Illini against Penn State was switching to a 5-1 offense for the first time this season. The move worked, as Illinois hit .315 as a team and held the nation’s top offense to 42 points below its season average. Head coach Kevin Hambly wouldn’t make any claims about the strategy Wednesday.

“I think we’ll do it, maybe we won’t. We can do lots of things. I’ve said that all year,” he said. “It worked against Penn State, and if it’s not working, then we can jump back into the 6-2 real easy or late in the set, we can jump into the 6-2.”

The Illini also utilized some different personnel against the Nittany Lions with Julia Conard and Katie Roustio. The seldom-used duo both played all four sets against Penn State, with Conard leading the team in digs, while Roustio chipped in 11 kills.

Another sign of growth from the Penn State match was in the fourth set, where Illinois held off a 10-2 run from the defending national champs to clinch the victory. After being snake-bitten by Ohio State in the fifth set last Wednesday, Hambly said he wasn’t worried.

“We didn’t panic. The Ohio State thing was an anomaly. I don’t expect that to happen again,” Hambly said.

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