New venue to test Illini volleyball

Despite being the home team, the Illini will be playing in an unfamiliar environment Friday night.

Illinois volleyball will host Iowa but will play the match at the State Farm Center instead of Huff Hall, the usual site of Illinois home games.

The change of location isn’t bothering senior defensive specialist Courtney Abrahamovich, who thinks of the arena as an oversized Huff Hall with a similar atmosphere.

“It’s weird. It’s so much bigger, but you still feel like the fans are a part of the experience,” Abrahamovich said. “I would say State Farm Center is almost like you took Huff and expanded it, and that’s how cool the atmosphere is there.”

The Illini will hold practice at the State Farm Center on Wednesday and Thursday this week to get accustomed to playing in a bigger venue.

“I know that practicing there (Wednesday) and Thursday will definitely aid us in that,” Abrahamovich said. But like I said, we’ve played in huge gyms before, huge empty gyms, huge full gyms, small empty gyms, we’ve done it all, so I’m pretty confident in us being able to adjust however we need to adjust.”

Junior outside hitter Morganne Criswell said one thing that may hinder Illinois is the new sight angles found in the State Farm Center as well as how large it is.

“I think it will be different with the depth perception,” Criswell said. “You’ll look up and the ball’s coming down and there’s so much ceiling to look at, and here at Huff it isn’t really as difficult.”

Head coach Kevin Hambly said his preparation and coaching strategy will not change because of the venue.

The move to the State Farm Center is because the Illini would host an NCAA Regional in the same arena this season, should they be seeded high enough. Hambly said the match against the Hawkeyes will be a practice run for the support staff before the regional matches.

The Illini have played in then-called Assembly Hall before but not anytime within the last four years. Illinois is 1-1 all time at the arena, having beaten Minnesota in 2009 and lost to Hawaii in 1981.

Although nerves may come from elsewhere before the match, Abrahamovich said the team isn’t going to be any more nervous playing in the State Farm Center than it is for any home game.

“It’s still volleyball,” Abrahamovich said. “When it comes down to it, we know how to play it, we’ve put the time in and no matter where you pick us up and put us, it’s still going to be volleyball, and we’re still going to be playing whoever we’re playing.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and @IlliniSportsGuy.