NU hopes to extend success to Champaign

Andrea Cohen

Coming off a pair of victories over Michigan and Michigan State, the Northwestern volleyball team hits the road this weekend to face Illinois and Indiana in its second week of Big Ten play with as many wins as it had all last season.

The 5-3 Wildcats, who are 2-0 in the Big Ten, will face the Fighting Illini in Champaign tonight, then head to Bloomington, Ind., to play Indiana on Saturday. This same NU squad finished 5-25 a year ago.

“Last weekend gives us confidence, but we have to be careful not to take any wins for granted,” freshman setter Drew Robertson said. “We’re continuing to practice the same to be prepared.”

Illinois is 6-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten after losing to No. 15 Ohio State and No. 6 Penn State last weekend.

In their most recent meeting, last November, the Cats defeated the Illini, making Illinois one of the two Big Ten teams NU beat last season.

“Illinois is a good opportunity for us to prove ourselves,” junior blocker Sarah Ballog said. “It should be a good, competitive match.”

NU has focused on Illinois all week in practice, working on ball control and passing as well as reacting to some complex offensive schemes that the Illini run, coach Keylor Chan said.

“We always prepare for our Friday game during the week,” Chan said. “All day Saturday we talk about the next team and watch tape.”

On Saturday the Cats meet up with Indiana (3-6, 0-2), which also dropped games last weekend to Ohio State and Penn State. Indiana finished third at its season-opening home tournament, and has picked up wins against Indiana State, Maryland and New Mexico since then.

In last year’s meeting, the Hoosiers beat the Cats in three straight games.

However, NU appears to be making a dramatic turnaround from its unimpressive 2000 season, in which it went 2-18 in the conference.

Ballog and sophomore Erika Lange have been dominant at the net, where the Cats are strongest. NU currently leads the Big Ten in blocks.

The addition of Robertson as the starting setter is also beneficial to the Cats in more ways than one. Not only is she an outstanding athlete who runs a strong offense, but former starting setter Kelli Meyer has given NU some added flexibility as a right-side hitter.

Saturday’s game against Indiana will be televised on Fox Sports Chicago on Oct. 1 at 7 p.m.