For two weeks, I’ve said that this past weekend would be one of, if not the, toughest weekends for the Illini. Playing two Top-10 programs, the Illini were able to split their matches, being swept by a third-ranked Minnesota squad before taking down No. 8 Wisconsin in four.
October 12: #7 Illinois 0, #3 Minnesota 3
Illinois was swept by the Gophers on Friday, 22-25, 19-25, 20-25. The Gophers, who picked up their eighth straight win, were the first team to not give Illinois a set all season. Minnesota was able to stifle the Illini offense, which hit only .194 for the match. Jacqueline Quade and Megan Cooney led the attack with eight kills each, as Jordyn Poulter picked up 31 assists. Morgan O’Brien also picked up 14 digs, while Ali Bastianelli led the block with four.
October 13: #7 Illinois 3, #8 Wisconsin 1
After falling to the Badgers at home in four last week, Illinois picked up a huge road win against Wisconsin, 23-25, 25-21, 35-33, 25-23. The Illini were firing on all cylinders, picking up 66 aces, 15 blocks, and eight aces as a team. It was a close, exciting match, which even included a ridiculous marathon third set where Illinois held off eight set points to win, 35-33.
Whereas Dana Rettke went off on Illinois last week, Jacqueline Quade had a monster game, tallying 26 kills to lead the offense. Ali Bastianelli and Megan Cooney also hit in the double digits, both grabbing 11 kills. Jordyn Poulter had another great match, with 55 assists. Ashlyn Fleming scored points in numerous capacities, with nine blocks, seven kills, and three aces, her first three as an Illini.
Big Potential: Keep It Going
The Illini now sit at 16-3, and will face No. 13 Michigan, Michigan State and Maryland in the next week and a half. Coming off Saturday’s huge win against the Badgers, Illinois has a great opportunity to keep building momentum before facing Nebraska on the road in two weeks. The Huskers have lost two of their last three matches, and will be looking to swing their momentum, though they have a tough week ahead as they play both Minnesota and Wisconsin on the road. If Illinois can head to Lincoln with three more strong wins under their belt, I really like their chances in that match.
As Illinois looks to guarantee themselves a spot in the NCAA Tournament and hopefully secure home-court advantage for the early rounds, wins like that would go a long way. So far this season, Illinois is 16-0 against teams ranked lower than them and 0-3 as the underdogs. As it stands, Nebraska currently is the last opponent they will face ranked higher than them. Picking up a quality upset win could go a large way to boosting the Illini’s rankings as they continue to improve their tournament resume.
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