No. 20 volleyball squad gets second crack at Illinois, Northwestern

Minnesota’s volleyball team swept the Illini and the Wildcats earlier this season at the Sports Pavilion.

Jeff Barthel

This weekend, Minnesota’s 20th-ranked volleyball team will look for breathing space in the Big Ten as the team heads to Illinois (17-5, 8-4 Big Ten) to battle the Illini before a tilt with Northwestern (14-10, 5-7).

The Gophers (17-7, 10-2) will face a monumental task. They will not only test their ability to handle the entire Illini squad, but also 6-foot-5-inch middle blocker Lisa Argabright.

“She provides one of the toughest matches defensively,” Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. “She gives players unique angles and hands in the face.”

Argabright can definitely rise up and knock down big blocks from time to time.

The Illini senior has recorded 107 blocks on the season. She also has 321 kills and a .401 hitting percentage.

Argabright is coming off last Saturday’s match against Penn State, where she had a match-high .524 hitting percentage – leading both teams.

Her coach, Don Hardin, is happy to have a player like Argabright, but he’s also excited to play against a friend of his this weekend.

Hardin was the best man in Hebert’s wedding.

“Mike and his team have gone on quite a run,” Hardin said. “We know that we are playing a team with a tremendous amount of confidence, and it’ll take a remarkable effort to defeat them.”

Last time the two coaches faced each other, the Gophers claimed victory over Hardin’s team.

Hebert and the Gophers defeated Illinois 3-1 Oct. 4 at the Sports Pavilion.

In that match, Minnesota held Argabright to a .083 hitting percentage. The Illini star averages .401 on the year.

Argabright has serious height and talent – her 107 blocks rank fourth in the Big Ten – but Minnesota has some blocking talent as well.

Led by Meredith Nelson – a 6-foot-3-inch freshman – and her 110 blocks, Minnesota ranks fourth in team blocking in the Big Ten.

Nelson, whose block total ranks third in the conference, also has a teammate who’d like to see a shot at facing Argabright.

“I actually have been thinking about her (Argabright),” redshirt freshman Athena Mallakis said. “(In practice) I’ve been thinking a lot about blocking the middle.”

The 6-foot-1-inch player from Simi Valley, Calif., has started in Minnesota’s last two matches.

After facing a tough Illinois squad, the Gophers will venture north to Evanston, Ill., to face a Northwestern team not having the best of luck this season.

But the team cannot be overlooked.

“For me, they are a pretty scary team,” Hebert said. “We didn’t exactly blow them out (Oct. 3).”

In that match, Hebert’s Gophers defeated the Wildcats in straight sets, needing 34 points in two of the three games.

Though the Gophers have climbed to the top of the conference standings, they will need a crisper match against the Wildcats if they want to stay there.