Illinois picked up two more wins this weekend at home, defeating No. 13 Michigan on Friday before sweeping Michigan State at home on Saturday. Now 18-3, the Illini will face Maryland at home on Wednesday before hitting the road to face a tough Nebraska squad Saturday.
October 19: #7 Illinois 3, #13 Michigan 2
In an exciting five-set match, the Illini were able to pull out the win 25-22, 24-26, 26-24, 23-25, 15-13. Illinois’s offense was cruising all night long, hitting .235 as four players reached double-digit kill figures. Ali Bastianelli led the offense with 19 kills and seven blocks at a .417 clip, while Jacqueline Quade was right behind with 18 kills. Beth Prince and Ashlyn Fleming both had great games offensively as well, with 14 and 13 kills each. Guiding the offense to so many kills was Jordyn Poulter, who picked up 63 assists on the evening.
The Illini were strong on defense too, as Morgan O’ Brien had 22 digs, while Taylor Kuper and Poulter had 18 and 17, respectively.
October 20: #7 Illinois 3, Michigan State 0
Illinois had their annual Pink Match Saturday, taking on the team that took down Illinois in the Sweet 16 last year. This year’s Spartans aren’t the same however, having lost some key pieces to their team since then. Illinois won the match handily, sweeping Michigan State 25-17, 25-21, 25-21, while hitting .327 as a team.
Jacqueline Quade led the team in kills with 14, while Ali Bastianelli and Beth Prince each added 11 and ten more, as Jordyn Poulter set up the offense 43 times.
Big Picture: B1G Games, B1G Players
The Illini have ten games left before the NCAA Tournament starts, and things are looking good for the Illini. Of those ten, six are against teams with losing records in conference play, including two against Rutgers who is winless in Big Ten play. Two are against Nebraska and Penn State, both currently ranked in the Top 5. The final two matches are against Michigan State and Purdue. This is a great final stretch for the Illini, who will look to further improve their record as they look to host the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Illinois wouldn’t be where it is right now if it wasn’t for its players, who are among the best in the country. Jordyn Poulter leads the conference in assists, and before this weekend, was 11th in the country in assists per set. Ali Bastianelli just set the Big Ten career record in block assists. As of last weekend, Jacqueline Quade was 30th in the country in kills per set.
Meanwhile, while other players aren’t on the leaderboard, the Illini are excelling. Last year’s team had 140 aces, while this year’s team is already at 131. Three players are tied or have exceeded last year’s high-mark of 22 aces in the season (Kuper with 27, Quade and Poulter with 22). Illinois is hitting .273 on the season, and three players (Fleming, Bastianelli, Poulter) are hitting above .350.
When you put all this together, you have a truly special team. The Illini have been something else to watch this season, and are set to make a run here as they wrap up the season and look to make a postseason run.
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