Illini volleyball’s Katie Stadick cements herself as defensive stopper

Illinois%E2%80%99+Katie+Stadick+%28left%29+and+Jocelynn+Birks+block+a+hit+from+Maryland+during+the+game+at+Huff+Hall+on+Sept.+26.+Stadick+was+named+the+Big+Ten+Co-Defensive+Player+of+the+Week+for+the+second-straight+week.

Illinois’ Katie Stadick (left) and Jocelynn Birks block a hit from Maryland during the game at Huff Hall on Sept. 26. Stadick was named the Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week for the second-straight week.

In a conference dominated by defense, the Illinois volleyball team’s defensive anchor is starting to hit her stride.

Middle blocker Katie Stadick has stepped into the starting lineup this season and flourished as a defensive middle blocker while continuing to make strides as an offensive player. The sophomore leads the Big Ten in blocks per set with 1.46 and, along with fellow middle blocker Anna Dorn, who is fifth in blocks, headlines an Illini defense that thrives on blocks and deflections from its front line.

“Getting touches even if it’s not a straight down block or anything will help out the backcourt,” Stadick said. “That’s something I can always improve on.”

This past week, Stadick was named the Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week for the second-straight week. Stadick tallied a career-high 12 blocks against then-No. 13 Purdue on Saturday in a four-set victory as the team tied its four-set record with 20 blocks on the match.

The week prior, she stuffed 11 blocks in a five-set dogfight against Iowa on Oct. 15, garnering her first career weekly honor.

“It’s an honor, and I’ll take it of course, but I’m mainly focused on what can I do to get better the next week,” Stadick said.

Head coach Kevin Hambly said that he still views Stadick as one of the younger players on the team. This season, Stadick has started 20 of 21 matches as opposed to only picking up four starts last season.

“She’s starting to figure out how to play our system,” Hambly said. “In some ways, I feel like she’s still kind of a freshman because she didn’t get a lot of playing time. She learned the system and all that during the spring, but until she gets in live game action and in big matches, it takes a while to learn how to play, and I think things are slowing down for her.”

If Saturday’s performance against Purdue was one of her best as a defensive middle, last Friday’s match against Indiana showcased Stadick as an offensive weapon. Stadick hit a career-high .750 against the Hoosiers, putting down six kills on eight attempts. It snapped a six-match streak of double-digit attempts for Stadick, but more important was her efficiency.

The Illini have had a little more practice time over the past two weeks, as the schedule shifted back to Friday and Saturday matches instead of Wednesday and Saturday in the same week. With a midweek match on the schedule, practice is limited to only scouting and preparing for an opponent, rather than teaching technique and improving as a team. While Stadick tops the conference in blocks, Hambly said he expects more from the sophomore as the season continues.

“I expect her to get better,” Hambly said. “There’s times when she’s just OK. She could get a lot better and our defense is going to get a lot better as the year goes on.”

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @steve_bourbon.