Men’s club volleyball dominates tournament

By Cole Cruz

After taking first, second and third at the Hoosier Classic two weeks ago, the men’s club volleyball teams head into this weekend’s third annual Hawkeye-Illini Co-Ed Invitational with a full head of steam.

The Illini entered three teams into the tournament and did not lose a match until they were forced to play each other.

“The fact that we’re winning right away is a big confidence booster,” junior setter Chris Walstra said.

“But like I was telling the guys at the end of the tournament, it just means that everyone is going to be gunning for us for the rest of the year,” Walstra said.

Winning this weekend in Iowa City will not come as easily for the Illini. Division II powerhouse Quincy will have both its varsity and junior varsity teams competing in the Invitational. D-III St. Ambrose will also field two teams.

The club competition will be an upgrade this weekend, with the likes of Marquette University and the University of Minnesota attending.

The Illini are looking to get big contributions from young freshmen Emmett Culligan and Joe Toth, two outside hitters that impressed in last week’s performance in Bloomington.

“I thought I did well passing-wise, but my hitting and timing still need work,” Toth said. “Our passing as a team was phenomenal throughout the whole tournament.”

What makes the Illini tough is their multi-faceted talent. The Illini have depth and team chemistry to go along with a high-powered offense.

“Our offense is definitely our strength,” sophomore setter Doug Burchett said. “With our passing, I think our offense is unstoppable.”

The Illini are so deep that starters are not even named in the fall, letting the Illini mix and match different lineups.

“Everyone gets along really well on the court,” Culligan said. “It’s got a really good flow to it.”

All these aspects lead to a supreme confidence brewing for the Illini as they approach this upcoming tournament.

“If we can do what we did last weekend and build on that, I think we’ll be all right,” sophomore libero Pat Condron said.

“All we can do is what we have been doing: playing hard in practice, keeping the offenses mixed up and keeping everyone on their toes,” Condron said.

There will be 12 teams at the Invitational this weekend. The Illini will begin pool play Saturday against in-state rival Illinois State at 10 a.m., followed by St. Ambrose at noon, and Quincy at 2 p.m.

The women’s club volleyball team will also compete.