Illini volleyball visits Spartans, Wolverines


Illinois’ Katie Stadick (12) rises for a spike during the winning game against Purdue last season.

Kevin Hambly isn’t one to get ahead of himself.

The No. 9 Illinois volleyball team (16-5, 8-2 Big Ten) is in the midst of preparing to play Michigan State and Michigan on the road this weekend. The Illini head coach said the team isn’t looking any further than its matchup with the Spartans on Friday night.

“We’re focused on Michigan State, trying to get one, and then we’ll try to get the next one,” Hambly said.

The Illini, who are on a five-match win streak, look to string two more wins together this weekend.

Illinois will start its weekend Friday night against Michigan State (12-9, 5-5). The Spartans are a young team, but are also one of the Big Ten’s best defensive teams.

That will be easier said than done if history repeats itself. Illinois split the season series with Michigan State last season, with the home team coming up with the win in both instances.

The Spartans rank first in the conference in opponents hitting percentage at .156 and fourth in blocks with 2.59 per set. Hambly referred to the Spartans, as he has most other Big Ten teams, as “really, really physical.”

“They’ve got good volleyball players in the back and they’ve got big kids that jump high,” Hambly said. 

Illinois will turn its attention to Michigan (10-10, 5-5) on Saturday, another team Hambly praised for its level of talent.

The Wolverines are led by sophomore middle blocker Abby Cole, who ranks third in the Big Ten in hitting percentage at .401 and sixth in kills per set with 3.47.

In order for the Illini to have success against Michigan, Illinois will need defensive help from its middle blockers. Senior Anna Dorn and sophomore Katie Stadick will have to help shut down Cole.

Stadick, who said she enjoys the opportunity to play against great middle blockers, is coming off back-to-back co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week awards.

While Stadick has recorded 33 blocks in her last four matches, it might be her offense that is even more important. She had 11 kills in two matches last weekend and has become the one player on the Illini who hits from the slide.

In Illinois’ new offensive system, junior setter Alexis Viliunas has been opening up a new offensive option that opponents have had a hard time stopping.

“(Alexis Viliunas) and I and all the other middles have been working just trying to improve and find our rhythm with it and get better at it,” Stadick said. 

What might make the most impact for the Illini is the team’s ability to live in the present.

“They’re both really talented teams,” Hambly said. “Every team in the Big Ten is talented, so for us, you forget about what happened in the last 10 matches, and you move on to the next one.”

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