Illinois volleyball looks to build momentum in Indiana

The Illinois volleyball team is gaining momentum.

After two straight losses to No. 9 Nebraska and No. 7 Michigan State, the Illini righted the ship last Saturday with an attitude-changing win over No. 17 Michigan.

With the Michigan win still fresh in their minds, the Illini (6-8, 2-2 Big Ten) will look to add to their win total at both No. 20 Purdue and Indiana this weekend.

“That was a great win,” redshirt freshman middle blocker Maddie Mayers said. “We needed that win especially going into this coming week with that under our belt.”

Illinois will start the action Friday against Purdue, a team that was stellar in preconference but has struggled against Big Ten opponents, going 1-3 in the Big Ten on the year.

Like the Illini, the Boilermakers last week split their weekend winning against Ohio State and falling to Penn State. Despite recent woes against the Big Ten, Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said Purdue is well rounded and very talented.

“They’re just a good team,” Hambly said. “They pass well, they play great defense, and they’re big and physical.”

The Illini will then head 119 miles across the state to Indiana; a team that has gone 0-4 to start Big Ten play and is currently in the midst of a six-game losing streak.

The losses didn’t change Hambly’s view on the Hoosiers who he said were both similar to Purdue and a very good team in their own right.

“They’re big and physical,” Hambly said. “They’re a typical Big Ten team that’s going to play great defense. They’re running a 6-2 sometimes, a 5-1 sometimes so it’s hard to say what they’re going to run. They run three middles or four middles and middles are always tough to stop especially when they’re passing well.”

Illinois will face a middle-blocker-heavy attack from both schools it plays this weekend so the Illini have been working on ways to counter middle blockers in practice.

“IU and Purdue will go to their middles a lot so this week we’re working on getting a big block in the middle, and quick hands above the net,” Mayers said.

The Illini have also been working in practice on finishing points and not giving away points on errors.

“Fighting hard for each point and terminating each point,” freshman middle blocker Katie Stadick said is what the team needs to do to be successful this weekend. “If we get a free ball we’re making sure that it’s a kill or if it’s out of rhythm we’re working on keeping the point alive and not making errors so we can get another chance at the point.”

This weekend will be a homecoming of sorts for Indiana native Mayers who said while she wont be able to go home, she is expecting a lot of support from both friends and family members at the games.

“A lot of family, cousins and stuff, friends from high school go (to Indiana) so I’m hoping for a lot of fans to come out so I can see them again,” Mayers said.

If Illinois hopes to build momentum this weekend the team will need to take what it learned in last weekends matches and apply it to Purdue and Indiana.

“Last weekend we started fighting more, having more energy and just pushing hard for that extra step and learning how to win,” Stadick said. “For this weekend we’re going to have to come out and attack right away, fight hard for each point, get after them from the beginning and not let up any.”

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