For the first time since Sept. 8, the IU volleyball team plays in Bloomington against No. 18 Illinois on Friday for its home conference opener. On Saturday, IU takes on Northwestern, also at home. Both matches are set to begin at 7 p.m.
The Hoosiers enter this weekend 0-2 in conference after losing against two top-25 teams in Minnesota and Wisconsin on the road. IU lost in straight sets to Minnesota and in four sets to Wisconsin.
“I think the whole program can agree that Friday was a rough night,” senior outside hitter Kendall Beerman said. “We could’ve easily came in on Sunday moping around. I was really proud with how we battled and we took a set off of them. I thought it was a confidence booster, even though we lost.”
For the fourth time this season, IU will square off against a top-25 team in Illinois this weekend. So far, IU has won four sets against top-25 opponents, including three that came in a road win against then No.15 University of Kentucky on Sept. 14.
This weekend’s opportunity against a ranked opponent, however, will be played in Bloomington at Wilkinson Hall for the first time this season.
“Winning on the road in the Big Ten is kind of a privilege,” head coach Steve Aird said. “It’s hard to go into someone else’s place and win. We’ve been on the road a little bit now, so it’s good to be home.”
Illinois is 6-5 on the season and 1-1 in the conference. Its schedule has been difficult thus far, as it has faced five ranked opponents. Last weekend, the Illini beat Iowa and took No. 2 Nebraska to five sets in a home loss.
Northwestern, on the other hand, is 9-5 overall and 0-2 in conference, like the Hoosiers. The Wildcats faced the same opponents as Illinois in its two opening Big Ten matches last weekend.
“Every weekend in the Big Ten is a challenge,” Beerman said. “We’re going to do our scouting. We’re going to prepare for them just like we do any team.”
Friday’s conference home opener will be the first in newly built Wilkinson Hall. Aird expects a “huge crowd” both nights and hopes to see some of the crowd from Hoosier Hysteria — which begins at 4 p.m. Saturday — make its way to IU’s match against Northwestern.
“We have to turn this place into one of the tougher places to play,” Aird said. “Part of that is us getting better. I think the environment has to be difficult.”