After their first loss of the season last week, the Illini went .500 this week, defeating Northwestern after losing to No. 5 Wisconsin on Wednesday. Illinois continues to impress, playing well in all their games and having only lost to two top-five programs.
The Illini hit the road next week, where they will face two top-10 opponents in Minnesota and Wisconsin, who they will play for the second time in two weeks.
October 3: #5 Wisconsin 3, #7 Illinois 1
Though the Illini jumped out to an early one-set lead over the Badgers, Illinois fell off in subsequent sets, losing the match 25-21, 21-25, 23-25, 18-25.
Each set had its own story, as both teams were firing in the first set, as Wisconsin hit .367 while Illinois hit .375. Illinois’s attack fell off in subsequent sets as they hit .048, .262 and .267 in the next three sets. Meanwhile, Wisconsin hit .118, .368 and an incredible .467.
Jordyn Poulter had 44 assists on the night, as Jacqueline Quade picked up 18 kills alongside Beth Prince’s 12. On Wisconsin’s side, sophomore middle Dana Rettke had a career night, picking up 23 kills as her imposing presence frustrated the Illini all match long.
October 6: #7 Illinois 3, Northwestern 0
Illinois made quick work of the struggling Wildcats, who have yet to pick up a single Big Ten win, defeating them 25-13, 25-17, 25-13.
Illinois hit an outstanding .372 to Northwestern’s abysmal .034 clip, as the Wildcats managed to hit for a negative percentage in the third set. Taking advantage of Northwestern’s many errors, it was a slower evening for the Illini offense, as Quade led the offense once again with 11 kills, while Poulter picked up 26 assists.
In the second set, Ali Bastianelli set school history as the Illini career leader in blocks, surpassing Johannah Bangert’s record of 653. Bastianelli now has 656 on her career, and is sure to pick up more over the rest of her senior season.
Big Picture: Buckle Up, B1G Games Ahead
To echo the sentiment from last week’s article, next week is huge for the Illini, who are already ranked third in RPI this year. Facing two top-10 opponents on the road, there is ample opportunity for Illinois to pick up some quality wins. Minnesota just upset Nebraska on Saturday evening, while Wisconsin was defeated by an Iowa squad who the Illini swept earlier this season.
With so many programs so close to each other in skill in the Big Ten, it’s hard to predict what may happen in a given match, but I’d look for the Illini to come home with at least one win next weekend. Every match counts for the Illini right now, as they look to improve their resume and hopefully earn home court advantage for the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
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