Coming off a season halted by Michigan State in the Sweet 16, every Illinois volleyball player — minus one —attended the Illini’s voluntary workouts over the summer.
Jordyn Poulter — the “one” — wasn’t slacking or choosing not to be with the team. Instead, Illinois’ senior setter was making her international debut on the U.S. Women’s National Team, competing at the Pan American Cup in the Dominican Republic.
Poulter qualified for the 14-player team in early July, one of seven players on the roster who made their international debut at the Cup, where the United States took home the gold medal.
What set Poulter apart in a roster full of Big Ten names was her age: She was the only one still with college eligibility.
“Being able to spend two months in a gym outside of what you’re kind of comfortable in is a good experience and pushes you out of your comfort zone,” Poulter said. “To be with the national team in the gym, to be with girls who are older than me and have had a bunch of experience and success in their given positions was awesome.”
Calling it an “honor” when she made the team in July, Poulter now realizes what it takes to get to that next level — professional volleyball, likely overseas, and the U.S. Women’s National Team at the Olympics.
“She goes hard everyday,” said Illinois head coach Chris Tamas. “She’s better, just seeing volleyball at that level, she is better, but I don’t raise the bar just because she went to [USA Volleyball]. She does that herself; she comes in everyday and busts her butt.”
According to Poulter, the biggest hurdle from high-level college volleyball to the national team is “just the consistency of being good every single rep that you have, and just being able to execute with girls who are playing at a faster tempo.
“There’s so much room to grow still as a player, and that’s exciting. There’s potential to be even better.”
Poulter became the second current or former Illini to currently be on the USA Volleyball roster, joining 2011 graduate Michelle Bartsch-Hackley.
“To have players that come from you’re program that are able to be successful at that level,” Tamas said, “of course you can use that as a pitch, help out recruiting. But I think our mantra is to just come in and work hard everyday. Do that, give yourself a chance to be on the national team and Jordyn did a great job during the summer.
“Nothing but good things have been about her when she went to go play, but that doesn’t surprise me.”
One more semester
Graduating in December, the Aurora, Colorado, native is back in Champaign for one more semester — with lofty accolades and expectations attached to her name. Alongside with Illinois Baseball’s Bren Spillane, Poulter was the recipient of the 2017-18 Dike Eddleman Award, presented to the top Fighting Illini athletes. More recently, Poulter, for the third straight year, earned All-Big Ten accolades, with fellow senior Ali Bastianelli, as they lead an Illinois team ranked 12th in the country.
All of that comes on the heels of a dominant campaign for the 6-foot-2 setter. Poulter played all of Illinois’ 127 sets last season, ranking 13th in the NCAA with 1,357 assists and was the only player in the Big Ten to rank in the top 15 in both assists (10.69 per set) and blocks (0.95) in conference action.
“She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coaches,” Tamas said. “You’ll see that when you see her play. She does a great job, she’s doing a great job with the leadership of the team, but she’s been awesome.”
The praise comes from her teammates, too. Bastianelli says that Poulter’s consistency over four years has helped with communication on Illinois’ front line, while junior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade credits Poulter and Bastianelli’s dominance to making it easier on the rest of the roster.
“It’s really awesome to play with them,” Quade said. “They’re really high-level players, so playing with them and seeing their intensity is a good learning tool. Blockers are paying attention to them, and it frees up a lot for me.”
“Bumps and Bruises”
A new tile court was installed in Huff Hall in early August, which Tamas said will assist in keeping players healthier when they’re sliding all over the court.
The blue court has at least one fan in Poulter.
“I love it,” Poulter said. “We get a lot of bumps and bruises sticking to the hardwood, especially without air conditioning (in Huff Hall). So having this is huge and you slide very nicely. My knees are thanking me a lot.”
You can’t blame her. Nearing the end of a decorated Illini career, Poulter’s knees and body have been through a lot.
The next steps after graduation are playing overseas while attempting to compete in the 2020 Olympics, but first, there’s one more season.
“It’s kind of sad,” Poulter said. “Walking around and being in the gym, just counting the moments because it’s not going to last forever.”
Stephen Cohn is the Site Manager for The Champaign Room.
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