Illinois looks to keep Northwestern winless in the Big Ten

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Illinois looks to keep Northwestern winless in the Big Ten

Players (Michelle Strizak (4)) on the Women's Volleyball team cheer and congratulate each other after scoring a point.

Players (Michelle Strizak (4)) on the Women's Volleyball team cheer and congratulate each other after scoring a point.

Quentin Shaw

Players (Michelle Strizak (4)) on the Women's Volleyball team cheer and congratulate each other after scoring a point.

Quentin Shaw

Quentin Shaw

Players (Michelle Strizak (4)) on the Women's Volleyball team cheer and congratulate each other after scoring a point.

By James Boyd, Staff writer

Following a Big Ten win over Maryland, the Illinois volleyball team will head to Evanston, Illinois, on Wednesday for the second match of a three-game conference road trip.

The last time Illinois played Northwestern, the Illini won 3-1 in a Huff Hall matchup. Northwestern finished last season three games below .500, winning only six conference games.

The Wildcats are struggling again this year and have lost four consecutive games. Illinois has only lost one Big Ten game against defending national champion Nebraska.

Regardless of record, senior Michelle Strizak expects the Wildcats to fiercely defend their home court.

“I think last time (we played them) was the first time we beat them in a really long time,” Strizak said. “Northwestern doesn’t get the respect that they should. But they’re a Big Ten team so I think it’s like any other Big Ten match. But it’s always a tough place to play and we really have to make sure we respect them.”

The outside hitter has played in Illinois’ last two matches, recording 10 and 20 kills against Nebraska and Maryland respectively, but credited sophomore Jordyn Poulter for being a big part of her personal success.

“I think Jordyn did a really good job,” Strizak said. “I think we weren’t really in the system very much so she was putting up great balls for (freshman Jacqueline Quade) and I, so we could just swing high and take advantage of our physicality.”

Poulter stuffed the stat sheet with 47 assists and nine digs against the Terrapins. She said that her team would have to tune out the road crowd like it did in Maryland in order for it to thrive in another loud atmosphere.

Head coach Kevin Hambly let his team take Monday off after its second Big Ten road win, giving Illinois only one practice to prepare for its match against the Wildcats. The Illini head coach said the practice wasn’t full throttle, but still intense enough to get some good reps in before boarding the bus to Northwestern.

The Illini struggled to show synergy on the offensive side of the game against the Terrapins, and Poulter said that the issue would be addressed in the team’s short tune up.

Illinois faces No. 3 Wisconsin on Saturday, and even though the Badgers are one of the best teams in the country, Hambly said his focus was solely on Northwestern.

“(Outside hitter Symone Abbott) is leading (the Big Ten) in kills per game,” Hambly said. “She’s a great player. Abott is as good an attacker as we’re going to see. She did a good job against us last year and I expect her to be really good (Wednesday night).”

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