Volleyball preview: Illinois (9-12, 5-6 Big Ten) at Iowa (10-13, 1-10), 7 p.m. Saturday
Setting the scene: Once again, the Illini will try to salvage a 1-1 week after losing at No. 11 Nebraska on Wednesday. In each of the previous five weeks of the Big Ten race, Illinois also split its two matches. This pattern has prevented the Illini from climbing back to .500 for the season, a requirement to be eligible for the NCAA tournament. If Illinois takes care of business tonight, it can look forward to a home-heavy schedule the rest of the way. Six of the team’s final eight regular season matches are at Huff Hall. ... The Illini have won the last 14 meetings against Iowa, including a 3-0 sweep of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten opener Sept. 27. None of those 14 matches has gone more than four sets. Illinois leads the all-time series 56-13 for the second-most victories against any opponent in program history. The Illini have defeated Indiana 59 times.
Illini update: Illinois will look to shore up its defense after allowing Nebraska to hit .318. That was the second-highest attack percentage against the Illini this season, trailing only the scalding .439 by Michigan State on Oct. 5. ... The Illini offense can use a boost, too, after committing 21 hitting errors in the three-set loss to the Cornhuskers. Illinois’ .143 attack percentage was its second lowest of the season. In particular, Illini hitters struggled mightily against Nebraska’s defense at the net. The Cornhuskers racked up 16 blocks, their most in a three-set match this season. ... Jennifer Beltran was a bright spot for the Illlini at Nebraska, accounting for 19 of her team’s 40 digs. The senior libero has led Illinois in digs in 15 of its 21 matches this season. With her latest performance, Beltran moved up one spot, to fifth place, on the all-time Big Ten list with 2,019 career digs. Michigan’s Stesha Selsky (2004-07) is fourth with 2,178. ... Illini servers are finding aces hard to come by lately. They have a total of four in the last four matches. Opponents have combined for 20 in the same span.
About Iowa: Illinois isn’t the only Big Ten team that’s been hard on the Hawkeyes. In each of the past three seasons, Iowa has not won more than two conference matches, going a combined 5-55 in that period. This league race has been much the same for the Hawkeyes, who entered Friday with one Big Ten win — against fellow cellar dweller Indiana. ... Last Saturday, junior outside hitter Alex Lovell became the 17th player in program history to reach 1,000 kills for her career. Entering Friday night’s match against Northwestern, Lovell ranked seventh in the Big Ten in kills per set at 3.58. ... Senior Bethany Yeager is on track to lead Iowa in digs for the fourth consecutive year. She entered Friday’s action third in the Big Ten in digs per set (4.17). ... When Sharon Dingman became head coach at Iowa in 2008, the former Illinois State coach knew she would be tackling one of the most challenging college volleyball jobs in the nation. Her three predecessors had a combined record of 180-346, including 68-273 in the Big Ten. Dingman, who coached at ISU from 2000 to ’07, has found it similarly difficult to turn things around in Iowa City. The sixth-year Hawkeye coach entered tonight’s game with a 65-117 record (17-94 Big Ten).