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Illinois volleyball hits the road once again

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Illinois volleyball hits the road once again

Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly talks to his team between sets during the match against Arkansas on August 26. The Ilini won 3-0.

Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly talks to his team between sets during the match against Arkansas on August 26. The Ilini won 3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly talks to his team between sets during the match against Arkansas on August 26. The Ilini won 3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly talks to his team between sets during the match against Arkansas on August 26. The Ilini won 3-0.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

The Illinois volleyball team is hitting the road for one more tournament before the Big Ten season gets underway.

The team will travel to St. Louis this weekend to take part in the Billiken Invitational hosted by Saint Louis University.

The Illini have three matches over the weekend, starting off with a Friday afternoon showdown against the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The Mavericks have had a rough start to this season, posting a 2-9 record so far.

The Illini then return Saturday morning to take on Murray State. The Racers are 4-5 on the season so far, including a loss to the same Oregon team that handily defeated the Illini last Friday at the Nike Invitational.

Illinois’ final match of the weekend will come against Saint Louis on Saturday night. The Billikens have gone 3-8 through three tournaments.

Although the Illini are the favorites over all the teams this weekend, head coach Kevin Hambly doesn’t want his players taking their opponents too lightly.

“Omaha’s been struggling,” Hambly said. “But they’ve played a tough schedule. Saint Louis has been injured. If they are healthy, they could play a lot better. They’ve had four really key injuries. The teams are all different, and like anything, they are going to present some challenges.”

Hambly is glad that the travel times for this tournament won’t be too long. After two straight tournaments where the team traveled over 1,000 miles west, a trip to nearby St. Louis is a welcome change for Hambly’s team.

The Billiken Invitational is the last tournament the Illini will compete in before the Big Ten season, which begins Sept. 24 against Purdue.

There are currently eight Big Ten teams ranked in the top-25 nationally in the AVCA poll.

The Illini received votes but fell out of the top-25 following the loss to Oregon – making the Big Ten one of the most competitive conferences in the NCAA.

Some Illinois players know they will have to play at a higher level to be competitive in such a loaded conference. Middle blocker Ali Bastianelli thinks that there are still places the Illini could improve.

“I think we could do a better job of focusing on ourselves,” Bastianelli said. “We do a good job of scouting and knowing what the other teams run, but I think we could do a better job of taking a look at ourselves and saying ‘this is what we need to do better, this is where we need to hit the ball.’ That’s one thing we could improve on before we hit the Big Ten (season).”

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