Illini volleyball’s Birks voted to All-Big Ten team

Illinois sophomore outside hitter Jocelynn Birks gives the popular meme “Oooooo, kill ‘em,” a new meaning.

The team leader in kills was a unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten volleyball team, the conference announced Tuesday. Junior outside hitter Liz McMahon was announced as an honorable mention for the team and senior defensive specialist Courtney Abrahamovich was selected for the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award, which is awarded to one player per team.

“It’s really cool,” Birks said. “It’s an honor, obviously, but it’s about the team. I couldn’t do it without any of them on the court with me.”

Birks ranks fifth in the conference in kills per set (3.97), total kills (453) and points per set (4.51). She recorded eight 20-kill matches and 10 double-doubles, consisting of kills and digs, on the season.

“As far as Jocelynn being on the All-Big Ten team, I wasn’t really surprised,” Abrahamovich said. “I knew how much of a huge transformation she made this spring. … This year she just totally turned into a go-to player … Liz too. They’re both our main two guns. Without them we wouldn’t be here, obviously.

“I was really excited to get the Sportsmanship Award. I’m just glad that the time I’ve put in here has helped other people. That’s my main goal, is to help the team get better. … If I can influence people in a positive way both on and off the court, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Big Ten well-represented in NCAA tournament

Eight teams from the conference were able to gain a berth into the NCAA tournament, tying a record. This is the fifth time eight teams from the Big Ten have made the tournament. Only the Pac-12 conference had more teams reach the tournament this year, with nine.

“The talent in the conference is great, it’s one of the reasons everyone is so tough to play,” Birks said. “I think the conference is one of the best.”

Four other teams from the conference were ranked among the top 16 and will host the first round. Joining No. 13 Illinois will be No. 2 Penn State, No. 8 Nebraska, No. 10 Minnesota and No. 12 Wisconsin. Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State also received bids.

Home record not indicative of play

After getting the No. 13 seed and home-court advantage for the first four rounds of the tournament, an 8-5 home record throughout the season may not look appealing. A deeper viewing shows that Illinois’ five losses at home were against teams all seeded in the top 10 of the tournament. The Illini’s losses came to the Nos. 1, 2, 3, 8 and 10 seeds. Illinois would not have to face a top-16 seeded team until the third round, if No. 4 Missouri is able to advance.

“Knowing we would be back here, I definitely teared up a little bit,” Abrahamovich said. “Playing somewhere else, it just wouldn’t be the same. Our home-court advantage is huge as far as our fanbase goes, so that always helps.”

Blake can be reached at [email protected]