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Illinois expects “slugfest” in Sweet 16 battle vs. Marquette

The Illini are two wins away from the Final Four.

Craig Pessman (Fighting Illini Athletics)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — If you’re now just tuning into Illinois Volleyball, there’s a few things you should know.

  1. They have 30 wins.
  2. They only have 3 losses.
  3. They avenged two of those losses, but not the one vs. Minnesota.
  4. Only two teams sit ahead of them in the national seeds: Stanford and.... Minnesota.

Easy enough, right?

Second-year head coach Chris Tamas wants you to know a few more things about the sport and his team, too.

“[Volleyball] is a fantastic sport,” Tamas said on Thursday, ahead of Illinois’ Sweet 16 matchup with Marquette on Friday morning at 11 a.m. “It’s fast-paced. Incredibly athletic plays happening, and some nuance that’s hard to follow. Huff [Hall] provides a great environment, screaming and yelling and music going. Glad we’ve had a successful season and bring people to the game.”

Illinois sold out both its first and second-round matches last weekend, wins over Eastern Michigan and Louisville, respectively.

Now, the Illini and have a tougher matchup against No. 14 Marquette in the regional semifinal — at 11 a.m.

“It’s a little bit earlier, but we’re ready to play,” Tamas said. “We’ve been waiting for this all week, and we’re ready to go.”

This travel situation, however, is more ideal than Illinois’ last year, when the Illini started the tournament one weekend in Washington before advancing to the Sweet 16 at Penn State, where Illinois fell to Michigan State.

“Rather have this than have to go somewhere this weekend,” Tamas said. “Any time you’re in these situations, you have to be flexible. Any time, any place, we’ll play someone.”

With Senior Night having been two weeks ago versus Purdue and then home matches last weekend, the potential two matches this weekend are officially the Illini’s final ones at home in 2018.

Yet, seniors Jordyn Poulter, Ali Bastianelli and Blayke Hranicka aren’t yet thinking about that end — choosing to focus, instead, on the Final Four next week in Minnesota.

“I’m not thinking about the end,” Bastianelli said. “When we win the national championship, then I’ll be thinking about the end.”

Before Illinois gets to the Final Four — or even the Elite Eight — there’s their Sweet 16 matchup with Marquette. The Golden Eagles (28-6, 15-2 Big East) earned a national seed with a difficult schedule, which included a sweep at the hands of Wisconsin.

Tamas worked with Marquette redshirt-senior Jenna Rosenthal this summer on the Team USA circuit, and he had high praise for the Golden Eagles as a whole.

“They’re a big, physical team,” Tamas said. “They match up as well as a Big Ten team.

“At this moment, everyone is really good. You have to try to slow some pieces down, and they have a lot of them. It’ll be a slugfest going back and forth, and it’s going to be whoever can execute in some crucial moments.”

If Illinois comes out on top, it’ll play either Wisconsin or San Diego with a trip to the Final Four on the line on Saturday at 3 p.m.

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