Illinois volleyball ranked No. 1 for 1st time in school history

For the first time in school history, the Illinois volleyball team is the No. 1 team in the country.

After the previous No. 1 California and No. 2 Stanford lost this past weekend, Illinois, previously No. 3 has taken over as the top team.

But head coach Kevin Hambly said it won’t mean much to the Illini.

“The way we talk about it, the team doesn’t put much thought in rankings, it’s just people’s opinion about the team,” Hambly said Sunday. “For us, we’re just trying to be the best team we can possibly be. The only thing we care about is where we end, at the end of the year. That’s the ranking we’re concerned with.”

With Illinois and Purdue as the only remaining undefeated teams in the Big Ten, opponents will certainly push harder to give the Illini their first loss.

“I don’t think it’s pressure as, ‘Oh my gosh we can’t lose.’ I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because a lot of times even if we do get a win, we aren’t satisfied on the way we got it,” said junior Erin Johnson, who was named the most recent Big Ten Player Defensive Player of the Week. “So I don’t think it’s a lot of outside pressure, it’s more internal pressure and just knowing we can play better than some of the times we have gotten wins.”

Despite the two wins this past weekend — and Big Ten Player of the Week honors for Johnson (defensive) and Michelle Bartsch (co-player of the week) — Johnson sees much more room for improvement. And even though “Friday’s Minnesota match”: went five-sets, senior Colleen Ward said it was the perfect match with which to start the Big Ten season.

“It’s good for us to see that our first game of the Big Ten, because that’s pretty much what all the games are going to be like,” Ward said. “So it’s kind of what we expected.”