Thank you, Illini Volleyball.
This was an incredible season to be a fan. From the Orange and Blue scrimmage through the Final Four match, I was lucky enough to be there and cheer on this team. This was a special group, and the best Illinois team I’ve been able to watch since I’ve been a student here.
A lot has already been said about Thursday’s match, and how it ended. It was not an ideal end to an incredible season, but only one out of the 330 teams gets to end in a truly ideal place. There are so many more positive things to be stated, and so much to be thankful for when it came to this volleyball team, not just in its individual scene but on the larger scope of Illinois athletics.
I’m thankful for Chris Tamas. What he has done in his two seasons here has been incredible. When Kevin Hambly left for Stanford (and now won a national championship), I was surprised and nervous about the future of one of Illinois’ flagship athletic programs. That future is now brighter than ever. I don’t believe that a Hambly-coached program would have made it to the Sweet Sixteen last year, or as far this year. Chris bought a spark to this program, and that fire is only beginning to grow.
I’m thankful for this year’s team. What an incredible group of players. From veteran seniors in Jordyn Poulter and Ali Bastianelli down through newcomers Taylor Kuper and Ashlyn Fleming, this was a team that led from within. This team drove itself to succeed, and succeed it did. Watching every match I could, there was never a moment where this team seemed down, even in the waning moments of the Final Four or in the tough losses at home. An inspired group like this will only continue to succeed.
I’m thankful for the entire fanbase that came to Huff. There has been no experience like a sold-out Huff Hall in terms of crowd atmosphere at Illinois events since I’ve been a student here, and that atmosphere was undoubtedly huge this year. Whether it was a weekend evening or 11 a.m. on Friday in the Sweet 16, the fans showed up. The home-court advantage can’t be understated, and Huff excelled at providing that this year.
I’m thankful for Spike Squad, and Illini Pride. If not for them, I would not be a volleyball fan like I am today. While I’ve enjoyed volleyball since high school, this group truly drove me to become the die-hard fan I am today. The work they put in to every gameday, bringing the student crowd to Huff, makes a huge difference on game day, and I was proud to be part of it. If not for Spike Squad, I would have not been able to attend a Final Four match this year, and cheer on the Illini at the biggest stage in college volleyball.
This was a hell of a season for Illini Volleyball, and the defining moment of this calendar year for Illinois Athletics. At a time where it’s easy to be down on Illinois sports, this was a much needed bright spot, and I saw fans coming out to witness this who don’t normally follow the Illini — or volleyball — very much.
The future is bright for Illinois Volleyball, and I can’t wait to continue cheering on and covering this incredible program. I am thankful to have the ability to do both of those, and can’t wait to continue doing so in the future. I-L-L...
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