Illinois Volleyball is on a ridiculous tear right now, winning nine straight matches including three against Top-10 opponents, including its first win against Penn State since 2014. With four matches to go in the season, the Illini are even closer now to securing a Top Four seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would give them home court advantage through the Elite Eight. The Illini have seemed unstoppable as of late, and are the Illini team to be following right now.
November 9: #4 Illinois 3, Rutgers 0
The Illini made quick work of Rutgers Friday evening, defeating them 25-20, 25-22, 25-11 in under 90 minutes. Illinois hit .270 match, while holding Rutgers to a .070 clip.
Jacqueline Quade was the only player to reach double-digit kills on the evening, with 10, while Beth Prince followed her up with eight of her own. Jordyn Poulter continued to excel, picking up 34 assists and three aces.
November 10: #4 Illinois 3, Penn State 2
In the biggest remaining match of the season, in front of the first sold-out crowd this season, Illinois was able to defeat the Nittany Lions 15-25, 25-22, 27-25, 23-25, 15-13.
In a closely-fought match, the Illini faltered out of the gates in the first set, but pulled out two tight wins in the following sets, as neither team managed to get on much of a rally. After falling in a close fourth set, the Illini finished the match in the tiebreaker set, improving their record in five-set matches to 5-0 this season.
Though the offense only hit .204, multiple players had big nights as Jordyn Poulter set up 55 assists while Jacqueline Quade had 29 kills. Beth Prince and Ashlyn Fleming both had big nights as well, with 14 and 11 kills each.
Defense was what won the match for the Illini, though, as they were able to hold Penn State to a .240 hitting percentage. Illinois had 88 assists as a team, with Morgan O’Brien leading the team with 24, while Taylor Kuper and Caroline Welsh each had 17.
Big Picture: What’s Next?
The Illini have proven themselves to be one of the best programs in the country this year, and with the remainder of their schedule being fairly light, there’s not much more they can prove, other than their match in two weeks against #12 Purdue to cap the regular season.
The Illini have battled in every match they’ve played in this year, having only been swept once by Minnesota, the only team ranked above them in the AVCA Coaches Poll. Saturday’s match was a great example of that, as the Illini came back from an early deficit to battle in the next four sets, and come out on top. There is absolutely no reason to expect anything differences in the weeks to come, or in the NCAA Tournament.
All the pieces are here for a great tournament run. After last year’s Sweet 16 run, there were some questions about this year’s team as Illinois lost an incredible libero in Brandi Donnelly as well as middle Tyanna Omazic, who had a solid freshman season before transferring to Missouri. Morgan O’Brien has transitioned incredibly into the libero role, and Illinois found the middle it needed in junior transfer Ashlyn Fleming, who has seamlessly meshed into the Illinois offense, while being a formidable threat on the block. Besides these new entries, seniors Jordyn Poulter and Ali Bastianelli have had incredible seasons, and will be looking to finish their college careers with an exclamation point.
The time is ripe for the Illini, and hell, I believe there’s a lot of volleyball left in this team. I can’t wait to see what they do once the NCAA Tournament begins, and they will be a team to look out for.
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!