Communication key for Illinois volleyball success

For the Illinois volleyball team, communication is everything.

Interaction between players and coaches both on and off the court is important in every sport, but for the Illini, talking to one another is what makes volleyball possible.

“It’s what keeps us united out there,” senior libero Jennifer Beltran said. “There are six different people on the court, but together we gotta find a way to score, so the biggest thing is just to make sure that we’re talking to each other. That not only goes for when we’re in the gym but it also applies to outside of the gym because as a team we have to make sure that we have chemistry and that we’re communicating because it’s not just a bunch of people trying to win, it’s a family.”

Whether it be among players on the court, between players both on and off the court, or with the coaching staff, the Illini are constantly talking to one another.

“When we’re not on the court we’re always looking for things to help the hitters out,” freshman defensive specialist Danielle Davis said. “We’re really looking at the other side of the net, watching their defense, where we think they can hit, where we see tips are open at and who to go to. But on the court you’re definitely doing the same thing.”

On the court, the Illini encourage one another and congratulate each other on good plays, but Beltran said Illinois’ on-court communication is centered on finding places to attack the other team.

“Encouragement is all there, but more specifically when it comes to technical things for a hitter like if Michelle (Strizak) sees something open for Jocelynn (Birks) she’s going to say, ‘Hey Jocelynn the lines open, you should go swing for it,’” Beltran said.

The team stressed the fact that quick, concise communication is really what helps Illinois succeed.

“Someone could very easily say, ‘OK, we gotta get this point,’” Beltran said. “But what are we going to do to get this point? We need to close the block; we need to pass this ball five feet, whatever it is that’s more direct than just saying ‘next point.’ ”

Illinois hasn’t always communicated well. Beltran said that last year the team wasn’t good at communicating, so the Illini spent the spring working to improve it.

“It definitely takes practice,” Beltran said. “In the spring we worked on it a lot. We held each other accountable for it. (Head coach) Kevin (Hambly) held us accountable for it. He would say: ‘Hey what are you going to tell her if this happens?’ In a way he almost forced us into it and then we learned how to do it ourselves.”

All of the talking can be a bit intimidating at first. It was to Davis, who said that she was initially shy but has since opened up and become more talkative.

“At first I wasn’t as talkative because it takes a while to get comfortable, but once we got comfortable we’re all talking the same game,” Davis said.

At the end of the day the team knows that without adequate communication volleyball is almost impossible.

“Nothing happens (if we don’t communicate),” Beltran said. “We don’t play. It all just goes the wrong direction.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and @IlliniSportsGuy.