The Daily Illini

Illini looking for marquee win against No. 10 Purdue

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Illini looking for marquee win against No. 10 Purdue

Illinois' Naya Crittenden (9) attempts to spike the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. Illinois won 3-1.

Illinois' Naya Crittenden (9) attempts to spike the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. Illinois won 3-1.

Karolina Marczewski | Assistant

Illinois' Naya Crittenden (9) attempts to spike the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. Illinois won 3-1.

Karolina Marczewski | Assistant

Karolina Marczewski | Assistant

Illinois' Naya Crittenden (9) attempts to spike the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. Illinois won 3-1.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

The Illinois volleyball team opens its Big Ten season Wednesday night at No. 10 Purdue.

With a weekend win at the Billiken Invitational, the Illini had to quickly get back in the gym to prepare for the Boilermakers.

But unlike earlier weeks of the season, head coach Kevin Hambly can now focus on preparing for one team at a time instead of two or three over a weekend.

“We’ve been as specific as we can be (in preparation),” Hambly said. “We have scouting reports; they’ve watched it all. Last week we had to learn about three teams, yesterday we just had to worry about Purdue. So that’s what we did, we just worried about Purdue and ourselves.”

The Boilermakers are 10-1 on the season, and are riding an eight-game winning streak into Wednesday’s game, including two wins against top-10 teams (Kansas and Stanford).

The whole team has been impressive statistically so far, but outside hitter Danielle Cuttino stands out, averaging 4.05 kills per set, as well as 0.76 blocks per set. Jacqueline Quade leads the Illini with 3.10 kills per set.

Hambly said that Purdue’s arena, the Holloway Gymnasium, was one of the loudest in the Big Ten.

The match will be the Illini’s first big test since they lost to three PAC-12 teams earlier this season. Illinois came close to beating both Stanford and Colorado, but they have yet to defeat a top team.

“The team that we were out on the court against Colorado, Stanford and Oregon, that wasn’t us,” opposite hitter Naya Crittenden said. “We struggled a bit to find out who we were as a team, and that happens when you have a bunch of new players, but I think now we are starting to figure that out.”

Middle blocker Ali Bastianelli said after the Nike Invitational that the team needed to do a better job focusing on themselves and what they needed to do, and she saw a lot of improvement over the weekend as the Illini swept three straight matches.

“We dialed in on a lot of things that we wanted to do,” Bastianelli said. “I think it was our best weekend in terms of passing, we defended really well, we served really tough and got a lot of the teams out of their system, and these are all things that we can control.”

The Big Ten is arguably the toughest conference in the NCAA this season, with eight teams in the top-25 and the top three teams overall (Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin, in that order).

Hambly thinks that the team has made a lot of improvement since its four-game losing streak, and is about as ready as it can be to take on the Big Ten, except that the team is missing the confidence that a marquee win would give it.

“I think the team is still trying to find out just how good they can be,” Hambly said. “We haven’t had a big win yet, and I think we need a big win. And if we can beat Purdue, that would be a big win.”

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@Jacob_Diaz31

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