Illini volleyball’s Mayers wins 2nd Big Ten Freshman of the Week award

November has been a month of winning for the Illinois volleyball team.

In addition to the Illini’s five-game winning streak, middle blocker Maddie Mayers has added an individual accomplishment: her second Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. 

Despite missing her first game of the season Friday night against Indiana, Mayers was pivotal in the team’s 3-0 sweep of then-No. 18 Purdue on Saturday night, as she recorded seven kills on 10 attempts with no errors to hit .700. She also added five block assists and a dig. 

“She was as effective as you could be,” head coach Kevin Hambly said of Mayers. “The speed of the slide certainly helped.”

Mayers attributed the play of setter Alexis Viliunas to her success against Purdue.

“We worked on speeding up the slide with me and (Viliunas) this week,” Mayers said. “I thought we clicked really well. It was a little rocky in practice sometimes this week, but I thought we were clicking. She was setting me great (on Saturday).”

Mayers’ first award came on the first weekend of the season, when the Illini defeated Florida State and Kentucky but lost to Long Beach State. In the three matches, Mayers accumulated 29 kills, 20 blocks and hit .345. 

Criswell shines in November

During the Illini’s five-match stretch in November, junior outside hitter Morganne Criswell has been a bright spot on the team. Thought of as a spark off the bench at the onset of the season, Criswell has transformed into the team’s most reliable and efficient hitter. In November, she has racked up 59 kills, hit .274 and has accounted for a fair share of the team’s set and match points. 

“(Criswell) has been working her butt off in practice,” Hambly said. “She’s gotten a whole lot better at attacking. She’s another in a long line of really good outsides that we’ve had. We’ve always been outside dominant, and she hits the high ball well and she hits in system well. She’s a really difficult kid to stop.”

Criswell leads the team’s hitters in hitting percentage at .249 this season. Through 79 sets, Criswell has 192 kills, averaging 2.43 per set. Junior Liz McMahon has played 100 sets and has 318 kills, but hits .207. Sophomore Jocelynn Birks has 391 kills, but hits .178. 

Beltran, team move up in ranks

Over the weekend, senior libero Jennifer Beltran’s 23 digs moved her into the team’s top-10 digs list for the fourth consecutive season. Beltran currently has 415 digs on the season. She broke the all-time digs record in 2010 with 623 and holds the second-place and sixth-place spots with 571 and 500, respectively.

Additionally, Illinois moved up five spots in the latest AVCA coaches’ poll to No. 20 in the nation. Purdue, who came into the match Saturday ranked No. 18, dropped seven spots to No. 25. Two of the remaining four teams the Illini are scheduled to play appeared on the latest poll, with Penn State ranking No. 2 and Minnesota ranking No. 11.

Blake can be reached at [email protected]