Hawkeyes face Illinois, Northwestern this weekend


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The Iowa volleyball team has geared up for a long weekend — it will travel to Illinois and Northwestern to start Big Ten play.

The Hawkeyes will start things off today when they travel to Champaign to face the Illini — their first Big Ten matchup of the season — and put their 9-4 record on the line. Illinois’ 4-6 record may not look impressive on paper, but team is ranked No. 24 in the country.

“Illinois’ record doesn’t appear to be that great, but they’ve played probably the toughest schedule in the country,” Iowa head coach Sharon Dingman said. “Out of their 10 or 11 matches, there’s only been one opponent that isn’t ranked [Duke], which really should be ranked; so I think they’re a much tougher team than their record indicates.”

The Black and Gold have struggled against Illinois in the past, with a 13-51 record against the Illini. The Hawks’ last victory against the team occurred in 2005.

“We need to be more consistent, bottom line,” Dingman said. “We’ve played some excellent volleyball this year, but we just haven’t been able to sustain it the entire match and get a win. I think our biggest challenge is ourselves right now.”

Senior Bethany Yeager will try to get her final season in an Iowa uniform off to a good start today. She ranks third all time in digs at Iowa with 1,750, and although she is confident in her team, she realizes just how tough the competition is.

“This is what you work the whole preseason for,” Yeager said. “We get excited night in and night out for tough play, and we know that we’re going to have to play well against two tough teams.”

After the match today, the Hawks will jump on the bus and make the nearly  150-mile trip north to Evanston to take on the Wildcats Saturday night.

The Hawkeyes have fared slightly better against Northwestern, holding a 26-37-1 career record against the Wildcats; they earned their last victory in 2009.

Northwestern is No. 10 in the Big Ten standings to Iowa’s No. 9 — which the Hawkeyes will try to maintain on Saturday. Sophomore Erin Radke has been nursing a knee injury all this season, but she is feeling better and ready to make an impact.

“The biggest challenge for me personally coming off of an injury is just to have confidence,” she said. “When you start to play Big Ten teams, it’s a whole other atmosphere. It’s exciting and fun, but it’s also a lot tougher, so I think if I can stay confident, which will help me against two tough opponents.”

Iowa will try to improve on its 2-18 Big Ten record from last season against two well-balanced schools.

“Back-to-back will be a challenge, but that’s what the Big Ten is,” Dingman said. “We’ve been doing it for years, and it’s not going to change, so we have to be ready.”

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