Students serve gratitude after Austin volleyball game

Flights delayed with overcast weather in CU


Photo Courtesy of the Illinois Volleyball Instagram

Members of the Illinois volleyball team celebrate during the game against Nebraska in Austin, Texas on Dec. 9. University students are thankful for the eventful volleyball season and trip to Texas.

By Faith Allendorf, Staff Writer

When Lauren McMillan, junior in ACES and vice president of Orange Krush, heard she was selected to attend Illini Volleyball’s Sweet 16 game against Nebraska in Austin, Texas, she said she was excited. 

“When I got the acceptance, I definitely jumped out of my seat,” McMillan said. 

Similarly, Michael Cachur, sophomore in FAA, could not believe he had the opportunity. 

“If you told me a year ago that I’d be traveling to Texas, I would have told you that you are crazy,” Cachur said.

On Thursday afternoon, McMillan and Cachur, among other dedicated Illini Spike Squad members, boarded a plane bound for Austin, Texas, with some Marching Illini, alumni and Division of Intercollegiate Athletics employees. McMillan said the energy on the plane as electrifying. 

Little did they know, they were in for a trip they said they would never forget. 

After an unfortunate defeat, the crowd of about 300 re-boarded the plane to head back to Champaign around midnight. However, due to foggy weather in Champaign-Urbana, they would have to land in Bloomington-Normal, and the group would then take a bus back to Champaign.

“That is when everything started going downhill,” McMillan said. 

Quentin Wetzel, senior in LAS and a Spike Squad executive, said he foresaw a problem with the plan. 

“My first thought with that was that Bloomington and Champaign are pretty close, so would the weather be any different?” Wetzel said.

Once again, the plane was re-routed, landing in St. Louis instead of Bloomington-Normal. Buses were on route to pick up the group from the airport and make the three-hour trip to Champaign. The arrival time was delayed by a couple of hours.

Haley Bickelhaupt, junior in ACES and an Orange Krush captain, felt nervous. 

“It was the first day of exams the next day,” Bickelhaupt said. “I had an interview at eight in the morning, so I was kind of freaking out.”

She also explained that one of her friends had a final exam the next day at eight. Similarly, McMillan said she had work in the morning and also knew a friend with an exam at eight. One of Cachur’s friends had a presentation at 10 a.m. 

By the time they finally landed in St. Louis, it was about 3:30 a.m. But yet again, the group faced another setback when the airport lacked the correct stairs to unload the plane. 

“We were just stuck sitting on the plane for about an hour and a half waiting for them to get the terminal ready for us,” Cachur said. 

The group then waited three hours for buses from Champaign to pick them up. At the time, St. Louis had no available buses. 

The delays were causing a real problem for the students who had exams scheduled in the morning. Some were half asleep and frantically studying materials on the terminal’s floor. 

Finally, at 6:30 a.m., the buses arrived, and the exhausted crowd took the three-hour trip back to Champaign. They arrived at 9:30 a.m. after a seven-hour delay. 

“I have no idea if people who had an 8 a.m. exam even got back on time,” Wetzel said. “I was so lucky that I didn’t have anything on Friday.”

Cachur’s friend, however, made it to her presentation even though the buses arrived in Champaign 30 minutes before it was due. 

“None of us had any sleep,” Wetzel said. “That must have been rough for her. But she said she did good on it.” 

McMillan also said she barely got any sleep.

“I was awake for 38 hours straight,” McMillan said. “I made it to work, however.” 

Fortunately for Bickelhaupt, she said she was able to re-schedule her interview. She also mentioned that several students’ exams were postponed. 

“The University was aware of what was going on, so they made sure things were figured out,” Bickelhaupt said. 

Despite the night’s chaos, the students said they never regreted their decision. 

“I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fly with the University, to watch my volleyball team play in the Sweet 16,” Bickelhaupt said. “I wouldn’t change anything.” 

“It was definitely a unique experience,” Cachur said. “My only regret is that we didn’t have more time in Austin. Overall, no regrets. It was a fun experience despite the delay.” 

Wetzel looks back on the experience and said he thinks it was humorous. 

“It was just kind of funny, you know, one thing kept happening after another,” Wetzel said. “There just kept being one more thing. But now that I’m a few days removed from it, I can laugh about it a little more.” 

McMillan said that one of her friends that did not go to Texas asked her if she would do it again considering what had happened.

“Yeah, I’d probably do it again even if I knew what was going to happen,” McMillan said. “It wasn’t exactly like we planned but having those bumps in the road and those little conflicts will still create great memories. I’ll never forget this trip.” 

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