Coming off of two losses last weekend in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, Illinois volleyball was looking to get back on the right track this weekend at the Redbird Classic over in Bloomington-Normal. Despite faltering in the first two matches of the weekend, the Illini were able to pick up a huge win against No. 7 Marquette, coming back from an 0-2 deficit to win the match in five sets.
Illinois vs. Illinois State: L 1-3 (16-25, 25-21, 21-25, 21-25)
Redbird Arena was packed for the first game of the evening, as 3,850 fans showed up, most of whom were cheering on ISU. In front of an imposing crowd, Illinois was never able to find the right footing and never able to pull ahead.
Attack was an issue for the Illini, with 20 errors alongside 43 kills, good for a .155 hitting percentage on the match. Senior Jacqueline Quade continued to lead the team offense, picking up 17 kills alongside 10 from Megan Cooney and nine from Ashlyn Fleming.
There was also some shake-up on the defensive end, as junior libero Morgan O’Brien did not play for the weekend. Caroline Welsh filled in at bro, while Taylor Kuper continued to play as a defensive specialist. Welsh and setter Diana Brown led the team in digs, each notching 14.
Illinois vs. UCF: L 1-3 (21-25, 20-25, 25-22, 20-25)
In an early morning game that started just before 10 a.m., Illinois found itself on the losing end of a match for the fourth straight time. Once again, the offense struggled to reduce its errors, with 26 attack errors versus 55 kills. Quade had another outstanding game, hitting .269 with 21 kills. Ashlyn Fleming continued to be an efficient producer on the offense, picking up nine kills at a .375 clip. All of that offense was ran through redshirt freshman Diana Brown, who had 51 assists on the night.
As defensive adjustments continued to be made with the absence of O’Brien, Welsh set a career-high for digs in a match with 20. Also helping out on the defensive end was Quade with 13 digs, Kuper with 12, and freshman defensive specialist Alyssa Eske with 10.
Illinois vs. No. 7 Marquette: W 3-2 (25-27, 12-25, 25-22, 25-21, 15-11)
After two losses at Normal and down 0-2 in their third game of the weekend, it seemed that the Illini very well could leave the Redbird Classic with a 2-5 record. However, they put up a great fight to pick up a huge win for the weekend, taking down a top-10 program in stunning fashion.
The Illini looked alive in the first set, coming out swinging but couldn’t put it away as Marquette eked out a first win, 27-25. Marquette then dominated in the second set, hitting .480 as a team and easily dispatching the Illini, 25-12.
The third set would have a different tone though, as the Illini held Marquette to a .000 hitting percentage and won the set 25-22, despite only hitting .030 themselves. The fourth and fifth sets continued to be closely fought, but the Illini pulled out ahead each time and ran away with the victory.
Quade had 21 kills on the night, while Megan Cooney added 16 more and freshman Bruna Vrankovic added 10 of her own. Setting them up all night was Brown, who collected another 52 assists.
Big Picture: Put Away The Non-Conference Schedule
Illinois currently sits at 3-4 with two more non-conference matches to be played prior to Big Ten play. Pacific and Loyola Marymount are both formidable teams who could beat the Illini, but more importantly could serve as great practice for Illinois heading into the conference season.
Illinois needs to use these two games to continue improving and to get back above .500 before entering Big Ten play. Unlike last year, Illinois’ rotations have changed wildly throughout the non-conference schedule, and tons of players have seen the court.
Hopefully, the upcoming weekend can serve as the final round of calibration and the Illini can enter conference at their best, which they’ll need from the get-go with an imposing match against national runner-up Nebraska opening the season...