Volleyball defeats alumni in 3 sets

When the alumni entered Huff Hall on Saturday night for the annual volleyball alumni match, they were ready to see a veteran team that earned its ranking as No. 6 in the nation.

“It was weird being on the other side of the court, seeing different things,” 2010 graduate Kylie McCulley said. “They have some really awesome players and once they put it together, I think they’re going to be great.”

The Illini swept the alumni in three sets, 25-21, 25-14, 25-15, despite the fact that head coach Kevin Hambly used the alumni match as a chance to give the new players an opportunity to play and try different types of systems.

“We have lots of players that can do lots of different things for us; I like how the pieces fit together,” Hambly said. “For us, it was like an NFL preseason game where we were able to try out different packages, and for us we kind of approached it like that; each set we approached a different way.

“We saw lots of things that we are able to use throughout the season. What those are right now, time will tell what will really work for us but time will tell, for what we need to use next year.”

Hambly said another benefit of the alumni match was for all the newcomers to the team to become fully accustomed to each other, the crowd and Huff Hall before the regular season. His favorite part was reconnecting with his formers athletes, while he said the women just wanted to play against people other than themselves.

The new faces had an impressive showing in their first match, Hambly said. Junior transfer Colleen Ward and freshman Jazmine Orozco had five and four kills, respectively. Freshman Jennifer Bonilla, who was named the starting libero at Media Day, led the team with 12 digs.

Ward may not have played with any of the alumni but she still knew one of them: Lizzie Bazzetta. The 2008 graduate went to Ward’s high school — Naperville North — and actually spoke to her when she thought about coming to Illinois.

Ward enjoyed the opportunity to see what Huff Hall was like. “I like it a lot; I like how the fans are right up there on the court. It feels like they’re there with you,” Ward said. “Now we can see, we just want to get used to playing with each other since this is our first match. We want to just find our rhythm and get together as a team.”

Senior Johannah Bangert said she liked how they were able to have a match where they did not follow their regular routine.

“It was really cool that we got all the different players in there,” Bangert said. “At one point, we were like ‘Wow, everybody on the court right now was never on the court last year,’ so it was good to get everybody in there. They did a good job, had their moments and did what they were supposed to do.”