Illinois’ Huff Hall welcomes back U

by Sarah Mitchell

To the first-year members of Minnesota’s volleyball team, Huff Hall is merely another foreign environment. But to veteran Gophers, Illinois’ home court is a vision of hostility.
This unwelcoming attitude became evident in October 1996, when first-year Gophers coach Mike Hebert returned to Huff Hall after devoting the previous 13 years to the Illini program. Hebert’s abrupt departure left many within the program disappointed.
“When we got there, obviously the Illinois people where a little hostile towards Mike,” senior outside hitter Jill McDonell said. “When we were down in the locker room and they ran to go outside, they all pounded on the locker room door.
“We were proud and extremely excited to have such a great coach, and they were seeking revenge.”
But the Illini grudge wasn’t lessened that day. The Gophers walked off the court with a 3-1 win, not to mention some pride.
“It was like us saying, `He left and he’s ours now,'” McDonell said. “I think it was important for Mike to set the standard that it doesn’t matter that he changed schools because wherever he goes he’s going to build a good program.”
Now in his third season with the Gophers (14-5 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten), most of the players who felt the desire to “win one for Hebert” have already ended their playing careers. For this reason, Hebert said the only motivation for victory against the Illini on Saturday is a conference win.
“I don’t even know if our team feels like, `Oh, let’s go out and try to win this because we don’t want Mike to be losing to his old team,'” Hebert said of his 24th-ranked Gophers. “Half the players don’t even know I coached there probably.”
Under the direction of Don Hardin, No. 18 Illinois (14-5, 7-2)) is third in conference standings — stuck below the level of No. 2 Penn State and No. 5 Wisconsin, yet performing more consistently than the bottom of the Big Ten. But Hardin and Illinois might want to thank Hebert for their success.
“They’re having a great year with all of those players we recruited,” Hebert said, referring to Gophers coaches Maurice Batie and Nao Ikeda, who left the Illini program with Hebert.
Two of those players from the Herbert era are juniors Tracey Marshall and Melissa Beitz. As a setter, Beitz tops the Big Ten in assists, averaging 15.75 per game, while the outside hitter Marshall leads the Illini with 345 kills.
“She’ll have her days where she’ll go off with, like, 32 kills in a match,” McDonell said. “Marshall is a very solid player.”
But before the Gophers can put the block on Marshall, they face the fierce attack game of Boilermakers Bev Krupa and Sarah Emke on Friday night. Purdue (10-8, 4-5) is unranked, but the Gophers aren’t accepting the Boilermakers’ record as a sign of weakness.
“Purdue is a team that has gotten the short end of the stick,” McDonell said. “They happen to fall a little bit short in every game.”
Wednesday night, however, was an exception to McDonell’s theory. The Boilermakers lost 3-0 at home to Illinois by scores of 7-15, 8-15 and 13-15, behind a decimated passing game. Illinois recorded nine service aces.
Purdue coach Joey Vrazel said the recent loss gives her team incentive to pull an upset.
“We’re looking to put together just a balanced win,” Vrazel said. “We have breakdowns in certain areas, which I think is similar to Minnesota.”
To combat Minnesota’s attack game, which Vrazel called Minnesota’s strength because “it comes from every angle,” the Purdue coach plans to take advantage of Minnesota’s unstable passing game and expects Krupa, who has 271 kills, to mount an attack game of her own.
Coming off two home wins against Northwestern and Indiana last weekend, the Gophers’ confidence has risen. McDonell said if the Gophers don’t get caught off guard, a road sweep could be the result.
“I think we should have no problem beating Purdue,” McDonell said. “I’m looking for a win in Illinois, too.”