Illini Insider: Volleyball team looks to continue streak
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WHAT TO WATCH
Three Illini events to keep an eye on this weekend:
7 p.m. Friday vs. Michigan
This has been the season of the streak for the No. 5 Illini. Kevin Hambly's team takes a season-best nine-match winning streak into this Big Ten date with the Wolverines at Huff Hall. Earlier this year, Illinois won seven in a row before running into No. 1 and still undefeated Penn State. Want more streak angles? If the second-place Illini win, it will be their fourth straight victory against Michigan. That hasn't happened since Illinois (18-3, 10-2 Big Ten) won four in a row versus the Wolverines from 1991 to '93. The teams' first meeting this season was a war, with the visiting Illini pulling out a five-set triumph after dropping the first two sets. Don't be surprised if it takes a while to settle this one, too. No. 15 Michigan (19-6, 7-5 Big Ten) has proven it can be a handful on the road (6-2 on opponents' courts). And any team that can extend Penn State to five sets – as the fourth-place Wolverines did Oct. 16 – must command respect. Michigan gets it in the latest RPI, earning a No. 10 ranking from the NCAA computers. Illinois is No. 4 in the RPI.
Friday at Illinois State, Saturday at Southern Illinois
It's barely November and the Illini women's swimming and diving team already is positioned to surpass last season's victory total in dual meets. Illinois takes a 4-1 record into these visits to a couple of state rivals. Sweep both and the Illini not only would own one more win than last season but match their highest victory total since going 6-5 in 2003-04. One factor in Illinois' strong start, according to coach Sue Novitsky, is the increased frequency of weight training this fall compared to previous seasons. "Physically, they do look a lot stronger," Novitsky said. "They're able to recover pretty well from practices." Junior Meghan Mason and sophomore Kristen Manias, in particular, have impressed early. Mason owns the team's top times in the 100- and 200-yard freestyles. Manias is No. 1 in the 50 free and has clocked four of the top six times in the 100 free. Both are members of multiple No. 1 relays. "They have probably been our most consistent performers so far," Novitsky said. Illinois could be without school-record-setting diver Lauren Wismer this weekend due to illness. Friday's dual against the Redbirds starts at 5 p.m. at Illinois State. In a quick turnaround, Illinois hits the water at 1 p.m. Saturday in Carbondale against the Salukis.
at ITA National Indoor Championships
Two Illini are in New Haven, Conn., today for the start of this annual indoor national meet. Sophomore Dennis Nevolo will compete in the 32-player singles field and join teammate Marek Czerwinski in the 16-team doubles bracket. The No. 24 Nevolo is 7-2 in singles, including 3-1 against ranked foes. He last competed Oct. 19 at the ITA Midwest Regional Championships. Nevolo originally was scheduled to enter a tournament in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last weekend but withdrew when Illini coach Brad Dancer was notified of the sophomore's inclusion in the ITA Nationals. In order to stay within NCAA limitations on seasonlong playing dates, Nevolo skipped the Alabama trip. Nevolo and Czerwinski enter as the reigning ITA Midwest Regional doubles champions and are undefeated in eight matches as a tandem this fall, including 4-0 against ranked duos. The meet runs through Sunday.
ILLINI OF THE WEEK
ANGELA BIZZARRI, Cross-country
In her final Big Ten cross-country meet, the Illini senior didn't go out on top. But it was close. Bizzarri finished second, a career best in this meet, on Sunday to cap a four-year run of All-Big Ten first-team awards that is unprecedented in the history of Illini women's cross-country. In fact, only one other Illini – two-time first-teamer Cassie Hunt – ever had earned the honor more than once.
Bizzarri completed the 6-kilometer race at State College, Pa., in 20 minutes, 10 seconds. She finished seven seconds behind Penn State's Bridget Franek, who ran the second-fastest 6K in meet history.
"Her and Bridget Franek battled the whole way," Illini coach Jeremy Rasmussen said. "Angela had her rhythm broke during the race, and that hurt her a little bit. But she battled until the finish and, obviously, being able to come in second is a great thing."
Bizzarri never placed lower than seventh in any of her four Big Ten meets, which included third- and fifth-place finishes.
Need further evidence of Bizzarri's Big Ten prowess? In the history of UI women's cross-country, the program has produced a top-five conference finisher six times. Bizzarri accounts for half of them (see The List below).
NEWS & VIEWS
It's been a tough season for Illini women's soccer, but coach Janet Rayfield received some welcome news last week. Goalkeeper Alexandra Kapicka's application for a medical redshirt was approved by the NCAA and she will be eligible to play next season as a fifth-year senior.
Kapicka, who ranks among the UI's all-time leaders in all goalkeeping categories, saw her freshman season end after two matches in 2006 due to a stress fracture. That made the two-year starter eligible to apply for a fifth year under the medical-redshirt provision, and Kapicka recently decided she would like to return next season.
Rayfield indicated, however, that Kapicka isn't guaranteed of keeping her starting role. She and current freshman Steph Panozzo – who has played for the Under-20 Canadian National Team – will vie for the job, as they did entering this season.
"The goalkeeper situation will be competitive and full of both youth and experience," Rayfield said. "And that will make us better in goal no matter who wins the starting position."
Earlier, senior forward Christina Sahly also was granted a fifth year of eligibility. She redshirted as a freshman after suffering a torn hamstring four matches into her injury-riddled career. Sahly also saw her sophomore season end after eight matches by a torn knee ligament. In addition, she's undergone ankle surgery and a second minor knee procedure.
This season, Sahly has appeared in all 18 Illini matches to date, making 11 starts. The Naperville native is tied for third on the team in goals with three.
"I am looking for her to have a great senior year," Rayfield said. "She deserves it, and she has overcome a lot to get there."
Taking the Challenge(r)
When the JSM Challenger pro tennis tournament returns this month to Atkins Tennis Center, last year's singles and doubles champions will be back to defend their titles.
The field for the 16th annual tournament, which runs Nov. 14-21, includes 2008 singles winner and former Illini Kevin Anderson. Another ex-Illini, Rajeev Ram, and Bobby Reynolds are back after capturing the doubles crown a year ago.
Long an accomplished doubles player on the pro tour, Ram has experienced a breakthrough year in singles. In June, Ram won his first ATP Tour singles and doubles titles at the Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, R.I. He is ranked 97th in the world in singles and 37th in doubles – both career bests.
A third former Illini, Ryler DeHeart, also has entered.
Illini soccer player Krystin Miller received a regional academic award last week. The junior defender was named to the ESPN the Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-District 5 second team for women's soccer. A molecular and cellular biology major, Miller was an Academic All-Big Ten honoree last year.
EDDLEMAN AWARD WATCH
Each week, we'll rank our top three candidates for the 2009-10 Dike Eddleman Award, which annually goes to the top male and female athletes at the University of Illinois:
1. Mikel Leshoure, football. Sophomore running back has rushed for 272 yards in last two games.
2. Scott Langley, golf. Junior finished fall schedule with team-best scoring average of 71.6.
3. Colin Mickow, cross-country. Sophomore improved 25 spots in Big Ten meet from last year's race.
1. Angela Bizzarri, cross-country. Continues to build resume as greatest Illini distance runner ever.
2. Laura DeBruler, volleyball. Junior moved into sixth place on UI's career kills list last weekend.
3. Lauren Wismer, diving. Freshman's 3-meter school record score is 3.61 points higher than runner-up.
Angela Bizzarri's runner-up finish in the Big Ten women's cross-country meet Sunday marked the sixth time an Illini runner placed in the top five of the meet. The rundown:
NAME PLACE YEAR
Cassie Hunt First 2005
Angela Bizzarri Second 2009
Angela Bizzarri Third 2007
Stephanie Simms Fourth 2005
Cassie Hunt Fifth 2004
Angela Bizzarri Fifth 2006