Illini teams to begin conference play

Uh-oh, guess what time it is? Guess what time it is! No, it’s not hump day, nor is it gameday — my apologies to the Geico camel and Reilly O’Toole for getting their hopes up.

It’s the start of conference play.

Across the board, Illinois teams are gearing up for the long and grueling stretch of games that make up the Big Ten portion of the schedule.

Teams leave the realm of, sometimes, subpar competition and say goodbye to cross-country road trips. From here on out it’s all Midwest, all the time. Well, at least until Rutgers and Maryland join the Big Ten contingent in 2014 because lets face it, New Jersey lacks that Middle America charm.

Conference play is just more exciting. As fun as it was to watch soccer beat up on Florida International, it’s more intriguing and meaningful to see the team play familiar teams, rival teams.

Last weekend soccer opened its Big Ten slate with Ohio State. After two overtimes the game ended in a 1-1 draw, Illinois’ only goal coming from junior forward Jannelle Flaws in the sixth minute.

This was a much-anticipated matchup as the last time these two teams met, Ohio State clinched the Big Ten Tournament by beating the Illini 2-1. Playing the same teams year after year means there will be instances where some games mean more. Bragging rights are on the line. The respect of the conference hangs in the balance. A draw against a good Ohio State team isn’t a disappointment, but it’s not the desired result either. It’s a starting point.

Volleyball begins Big Ten play against Iowa on Friday night at 7 at State Farm Center. Home turf, a night match and a conference rival are the ingredients for an electric atmosphere, and after dropping consecutive matches last weekend to Duke and No. 14 North Carolina, the team is looking for a spark.

That new life the Illini are searching for could come in the form of beating Iowa. That momentum is precious when the very next day No. 12 Nebraska comes to town.

Including Illinois, eight of the 12 teams in Big Ten volleyball are ranked in the top 25. Penn State claims the No. 1 spot in the AVCA poll, and is scheduled to come to Huff Hall on Oct. 18.

Going through conference play is like running the gauntlet. There’s tough competition around every corner just waiting to knock you out.

Hockey is also gearing up to start its Central States Collegiate Hockey League season. The CSCHL is a Division I club conference made up of 10 teams, including ACHA powerhouses Lindenwood, Ohio and Robert Morris.

The Illini welcome No. 9 Iowa State to Champaign the weekend of Oct. 4 to start CSCHL play.

This conference is stacked. Four teams claim at least one ACHA national championship, Ohio with four,and Illinois and Lindenwood with two apiece. Iowa State won the ACHA’s first national title back in 1992.

There will be a lot of coach-speak in the coming days about how “every game is the same” and “we treat all teams equally when preparing”, but playing conference teams just means more. Yes, beating Florida International and say, Nebraska, 4-0 is the same result, but which would you rather? Which do you think Jannelle Flaws and Vanessa DiBernardo would be more proud of?

Conference play is a magical time. It’s when competition seems to start in earnest.

So I ask, who’s more excited than a camel on hump day or Reilly O’Toole on gameday?

Answer: the Illini at the start of conference play.

Aryn is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ArynBraun.