Playing in Indianapolis this past weekend as part of Butler’s Bulldog Brawl, Illinois volleyball went 2-0 against two California schools, taking down Pacific and Loyola Marymount to move above .500 at the end of the non-conference slate. In Monday’s AVCA poll, the Illini slid one spot further, to 20th in the national rankings. Both Ashlyn Fleming and Megan Cooney would be named to the All-Tournament Team, upon its conclusion.
September 20: Illinois 3, Pacific 1 (19-25, 25-12, 25-17, 25-14)
It was a slow start for the Illini as they kicked off the weekend at Hinkle Fieldhouse, as they lost the first set hitting .065 to Pacific’s even worse .029. However, the Illini woke up and hit at over a .400 clip in the next two sets, coasting to a win in four. Pacific wasn’t able to put up much of a fight at that point, hitting only .128 for the match.
Ashlyn Fleming was the undisputed MVP of the game for the Illini, destroying the school where she transferred from with 12 kills, two aces and five blocks, while hitting at an absolutely absurd .611 percentage. She was followed up by Jacqueline Quade with 12 kills, and Megan Cooney with 11.
September 21: Illinois 3, Loyola Marymount 1 (26-24, 25-17, 25-14, 25-11)
With another early game (this one starting at 8 AM CT!) Illinois was able to pull off another win despite dropping the first set, facing little opposition the rest of the way. Illinois hit at a respectable .286 clip for the match, while LMU was held to an abysmal .094 percentage.
Jacqueline Quade led the way once again for the Illini attack, tallying 16 kills. Right behind her were Megan Cooney with 13 kills of her own, and Ashlyn Fleming with 9. Fleming was big on the block once again, picking up another seven blocks.
Big Picture: The Show Goes On
It’s been a whirlwind non-conference slate for the Fighting Illini this year, playing 5-4 volleyball. Following a rough weekend up in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois was able to get on the right track in Indianapolis and can hopefully carry that over into Big Ten play, starting with a huge game against third-ranked Nebraska on Friday, and then Iowa on Saturday.
Lineups changed constantly throughout the first nine games of the season, a stark contrast from last year’s team whose lineup was fairly well established after some early-season injuries. Almost every player has seen the floor at some point season, with lineups changing between matches and sets regularly.
Even if the majority of the lineup is fairly set in stone by this point, things can always change and injuries do happen. Hopefully the experience younger players gained during non-conference play will allow them to step up as needed.
The NCAA volleyball scene has been chaotic all year, and with so many strong teams in the Big Ten I think we’ll only continue to see upsets abound across all teams. Hopefully, the Illini will be able to pick up some big wins and minimize their upsets, as they look to appear in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season, and possibly even host the first two rounds as a Top-16 seed.