After defeating both of its opponents last week, Illinois climbed in the rankings to No. 6. This week, the Illini took down a struggling Maryland squad on Wednesday (a task that football couldn't do), while picking up a huge road win in front of a crowd of over 8,000 against Nebraska Saturday. With that win, the Illini’s record improved to 20-3 on the season, and a 9-3 mark in Big Ten play.
October 24: #6 Illinois 3, Maryland 0
Illinois swept the Terrapins Wednesday, 25-14, 25-14, 25-19. Maryland, who is 4-7 in conference play this year, hit only .055 on the match. Meanwhile, the Illinois offense had another great night, hitting an even .333 with 51 kills on 114 attempts, with three errors. Jacqueline Quade and Megan Cooney led the attack with a dozen kills each, as Jordyn Poulter picked up 39 assists on the evening.
Illinois’s presence on the block was as strong as ever, as Ashlyn Fleming had six while Poulter added another five.
October 27: #6 Illinois 3, #9 Nebraska 1
Illinois avenged its loss to Nebraska in Champaign by taking down the Cornhuskers on the road, 27-29, 25-19, 27-25, 25-22. Defense was the name of today’s game, as both teams’ defenses had an answer for every ball that came their way, as Illinois hit at only a .187 clip, while Nebraska was held to a ridiculous .099 percentage. Libero Morgan O’Brien led the defensive efforts with 32 digs, while Taylor Kuper and Jordyn Poulter contributed with 25 and 18, respectively.
Even though Illinois’s offense was quieted, Jacqueline Quade still had 23 kills while Ali Bastianelli added another ten. Jordyn Poulter continued to excel, picking up 49 more assists to add to her impressive, Big Ten leading season tally. Illinois continued their strategy of serving aggressively, picking up five aces against 13 serving errors, while Nebraska had eight aces with six serve errors.
Illinois might win out
Illinois has already established firm ground in the upper part of the AVCA rankings on a weekly basis. After another set of strong performances on the week, and Purdue taking down No. 4 Penn State, Illinois looks to continue to move up those rankings — and not only host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, but even possibly the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight if they can clinch a Top Four seed.
With eight regular season games remaining, the Illini’s schedule looks favorable for a team with a resume as already established as theirs. Only two remaining opponents — No. 4 Penn State and No. 17 Purdue — are ranked, and four of those games are against Big Ten cupcakes Rutgers, Maryland and Northwestern.
Especially considering that the two Big Ten schools ranked above Illinois, Minnesota at No. 3 and Penn State, have tougher final stretches, things are looking good for the Illini. If Illinois is able to make it through the next month with minimal damage while Minnesota and Penn State take some punches, that might make enough of a case for the Volleyball Committee to give Illinois a Top Four seed and the highly coveted home court advantage.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!