Illinois Volleyball team completes three sweeps to win Shocker Classic


Kevin Vongnaphone | Senior photo

Illinois’ Alexis Viliunas attempts to block a hit from Florida’s Carli Snyder during the NCAA Third Round v. Florida at Hilton Coliseum on Friday, Nov. 12.

By Daniel Dexter

The No. 7 Illinois volleyball team (7-1) had little trouble dispatching its three opponents at the Shocker Classic over the weekend.

The Illini won the tournament, held in Wichita, Kansas, with sweeps of Kentucky (5-5), South Dakota State (1-11), and Wichita State (7-4). The Illini relied on their defensive prowess to contain each of their opponents as they head into Big Ten play.

Illinois’ biggest challenge of the weekend was No. 21 Kentucky. The Wildcats were ahead of the Illini 24-23 in the first set of Friday’s match before Illinois rallied off three straight points — two courtesy of outside hitter Michelle Strizak — to take a one-set lead. Michelle Strizak two of which came from outside hitter Michelle Strizak. Head coach Kevin Hambly was impressed with the team’s ability to keep its cool in a high-pressure situation.

“The thing that I liked the most is that we were very calm in the moment,” Hambly said. “We didn’t get excited. I thought Kentucky got more anxious than we did, and we stayed steady and made plays.”

Despite committing 28 errors and hitting .130 throughout the match, Illinois distanced itself from Kentucky in the next two sets to take the match (26-24, 25-19, 25-18). Kentucky was the only ranked opponent of the tournament, and as a result, the Illini’s margin of victory grew significantly in the team’s next two matches.

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The Illini started Saturday off against South Dakota State, which allowed Hambly an opportunity to spread the playing time around.

Strizak and outside hitter Katie Roustio led the team with 12 kills, and setter Alexis Viliunas contributed 29 assists, taking the majority of the passing load from freshman Jordyn Poulter.

In a clinical defensive effort by the Illini, the Jackrabbits registered a .040 hit percentage and Illinois took the match in straight sets (25-15, 25-9, 25-14).

“We really focused on our side of the net,” outside hitter Ali Bastianelli said. “We took care of our side of the net and not worrying about who is on the other side.”

Illinois’ closing match of the Shocker Classic was against tournament host. Hambly credited the Shockers with playing a fast style that gave his team trouble in the early going. However, the Illini adjusted quickly, and limited Wichita State to just 13 points in the second and third sets, respectively.

On the offensive end, Illinois overcame a .140 hit percentage in the first set to hit .426 in the next two sets. Strizak, who led the team in kills in all three weekend matches, said the team improved throughout the tournament and put in its best play against the Shockers.

Hambly wouldn’t call the final two matches a confidence booster for the team moving forward – just another opportunity to learn and grow as a team. While there is still a long way to go in the season, Hambly said the team is on track to meet its expectations.

“In general, everybody played their roles well,” Hambly said. “If we are winning, then the players are meeting the expectations that we have for them. I wouldn’t say anybody did anything above and beyond what our expectations are.”

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