The Daily Illini

Illini Volleyball look to build on positive start against No. 9 Stanford

Illinois+setter+Jordyn+Poulter+%281%29+sets+the+ball+to+Ali+Bastianelli+%285%29+during+the+match+against+Arkansas+at+Huff+Hall+on+August+26.+The+Illini+won+3-0.
Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter (1) sets the ball to Ali Bastianelli (5) during the match against Arkansas at Huff Hall on August 26. The Illini won 3-0.

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter (1) sets the ball to Ali Bastianelli (5) during the match against Arkansas at Huff Hall on August 26. The Illini won 3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter (1) sets the ball to Ali Bastianelli (5) during the match against Arkansas at Huff Hall on August 26. The Illini won 3-0.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

Following its third-straight win in the Illini Classic, the Illinois volleyball team will head west this weekend for the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge.

The team will travel to Boulder, Colorado, for two matches. First up on Saturday, Illinois will face the No. 9 team in the country, Stanford, and then Sunday the team will play the Colorado Buffaloes.

Stanford presents a unique challenge for head coach Kevin Hambly and his squad.

“They’re a huge team,” Hambly said. “They may be the biggest team ever in the history of the NCAA. So, (I look forward to) being able to test our offense against a really big block and some serious physicality, and see how they respond.”

Stanford’s squad sports five players 6-foot-4 or taller, lead by All-PAC-12 middle blocker Merete Lutz, who is listed at 6-foot-8. Joining Lutz in the middle of the floor is highly-touted 6-foot-6 blocker Audriana Fitzmorris.

Stanford’s height up front will make it difficult for Illini setter Jordyn Poulter and the team’s outside and opposite hitters to find clean chances, but Hambly said the Illini will be able to keep up.

“I think our speed and physicality are good enough to match up with them. The speed is where I think we can take advantage of them,” Hambly said. “When we are passing well I think we can give everyone trouble because of the tempo we can run at.”

Stanford comes into the match sporting a 1-1 record after opening the season with a loss against San Diego, and a huge win against preseason No. 3 Minnesota.

The setting of the two weekend matches will also present a new situation for the team to address: altitude. The air is thinner at the heights that the teams will be playing at in Boulder, which can affect the flight path of the ball. While there may be some minor adjustments that the players have to make to account for this, Hambly is not too worried about it affecting play.

“Well, you know how you hit more home runs in Colorado because the ball travels farther. The ball’s flight path will be a little different,” Hambly said. “When we get there we’re gonna serve a lot of balls, pass a lot of balls in practice, and they’ll get used to it.”

Hambly played at BYU in Utah during his college days, where altitude is also a factor, but he said that he never noticed any difference in play because of the altitude.

Hambly admits that he isn’t quite as familiar with the Buffaloes as he is with the Cardinal, but Colorado has gotten off to a 2-1 start this season and will be eager to defend its home court and their conference.

A crucial part of the offense, this weekend is a special one for Poulter, who is returning to her home state.

“It’ll be fun to see all my friends and family,” Poulter said. “Here (in Illinois) I have some extended family that come to the games, but I’ll have my parents and my little sister at the game this weekend.”

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