Illinois volleyball made up for its 2016 absence from the NCAA tournament this season with a well-fought run to the Sweet Sixteen.
Momentum from a three-match win streak at the end of the regular season carried over to the first round of the tournament. Illinois didn’t panic when taking Hawaii to five sets, as it was the Illini’s eighth five-set match of the season. Composure and experience led to a 15-10 victory in the final frame.
A balance of youth and veteran talent helped the Illini find success all season long. In their match against Hawaii, sophomore Jacqueline Quade had a team-high 15 kills, while Ali Bastianelli demonstrated why she is one of the best blockers in the nation with 14.
The Illini sang the same song in their second round match against the No. 8 Washington Huskies. Illinois went five-sets with another dominant performance by Quade, this time leading the team in both blocks and kills.
New head coach Chris Tamas headed to his first Sweet Sixteen appearance and the 17th in Fighting Illini program history.
It was only a matter of time before the five-set magic wore off. Illinois had to force a fifth set in their Sweet Sixteen match against Big Ten opponent Michigan State to keep its tournament hopes alive, but a 29-27 loss to the Spartans ended the Illini’s season.
Senior Brandi Donnelly wore her orange and blue for the last time and recorded 22 digs in her farewell performance.
Illinois will head into the 2018 season with all but Donnelly returning.