Entering the second half of their collegiate volleyball careers are Illinois’ six juniors. These athletes began their time as Illini at the same time as head coach Chris Tamas, and there’s only been success in the last two years. Their junior season will hopefully be another great one, and this class has some high-impact players who will play a large role in the season’s outcome.
Walters has made limited appearances as an Illini to date, playing in 29 sets over 12 matches as a sophomore, and was utilized primarily for her serve, with which she picked up seven aces.
As a sophomore, O’Brien took over as the libero for Illinois, and excelled in that role, leading the team in digs with 571. She was also great on the serve, tallying 28 aces. She will undoubtedly continue to be a huge part of next year’s Illini team as she returns and anchors down the back row.
Smith did not play as a sophomore due to injury and played in two matches as a freshman.
As a sophomore, Bruder regularly came in to serve for the Illini once Big Ten play began, and was one of the team’s most reliable servers, with eight aces and only 18 serve errors in 59 sets played. Depending on how the Illini rotation looks this coming season, she will likely continue to serve as the team’s serving specialist.
Hollowell has played in one set as an Illini, against Northwestern during her sophomore season.
Since joining the Illini, Cooney has been a force for the Illini as an outside, and was second on the team in kills last year with 343, hitting at a .279 percentage. Cooney also made her presence known on the block, with 80 last year. Cooney will be a key piece to the offense this next season, and I’d expect to see her numbers continue to climb as a junior.
Impact: Keep It Going
This junior class has had two incredible seasons to date, making a run to the Sweet Sixteen as freshmen, and then stormed their way to the Final Four last year. This group has only had success since they stepped foot onto campus, with volleyball going 55-15 in the last two years.
These players are no longer newcomers, but are veterans with proven experience and they’ll show it as juniors. The focal point of next year’s team will likely be on the junior class, as the defense will run through O’Brien and much of the offense will be facilitated by Cooney. If these players continue to succeed as they have, the Illini will as well. And honestly, I don’t see why they wouldn’t. This class knows what it takes to excel, and I’m sure they will in the upcoming season.
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!