Illinois volleyball goes 1-1 on weekend at Huff Hall

Illinois’ Katie Stadick (12) spikes the ball during the match against Nebraska at Huff Hall on Saturday, Oct 17, 2015. Illinois lost 0-3.

By Daniel Dexter

Even though the results might not show it, Illinois volleyball head coach Kevin Hambly saw improvement.

After the No. 16 Illini (12-7)RB took down Big Ten bottom-feeder Iowa (10-11)RB on Friday at Huff Hall in three sets (25-16, 25-16, 26-24)RB, Hambly didn’t allow himself to get too excited. He admitted it was nice to see his team snap its four-game losing streak, but its level of play was going to need to be sharper to compete with No. 3 Nebraska (16-2)RB.

His intuition was right and the Cornhuskers ended up making quick work of the Illini (25-22, 25-18, 25-19)RB. It was the first time the Illini have been swept this season, but Hambly was optimistic about his team’s effort.

“I thought we defended how we want to defend for the most part, and we played with our hearts out there a little bit more,” Hambly said. “We fought, we just didn’t execute the way we need to execute to beat a team like that, who’s playing at a high level. We will continue to get back to work.”

On the defensive end, the Illini limited the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers to .157 and .219 hitting percentages, respectivelyRB. This represented an improvement compared to last weekend when Penn State and Ohio State hit for .289 and .271 in their respective matches against IllinoisRB.

Middle blocker Katie Stadick, who has struggled in previous matches, seemed to get out of her slump against the Hawkeyes. She took part in four of the team’s seven blocks and was one of four players to record 10 kills on the nightRB.

“We were really getting after it this week in practice, just being more defensive-minded and trying to assert our will on teams,” Stadick said. “It was definitely better than what it has been, but it could always use improvement.”

While the team found success offensively against the Hawkeyes, a team that remains winless in the Big Ten, the Illini had trouble finding their rhythm against the Cornhuskers. Illinois hit for just .108 and none of the players reached 10 killsRB.

Illinois particularly struggled at the end of the second set when Nebraska went on a 8-0 run behind the serves of Nebraska’s star freshman Mikaela Foecke. The outside hitter had four aces and one kill on the runRB. Defensive specialist Julia Conard said after the match that the Illini had trouble finding a connection on its passes, which led to the Cornhuskers’ dominant run.

“Toward the end of the second set, I don’t think that was necessarily a reflection of how we passed the entire night,” Conard said. “I think it was just the wrong series of serves received. I think overall we had each others’ backs and cleaned it up.”

Despite the scoring troubles, Hambly said he saw an emotional investment from his team that wasn’t there the previous weekend. Still, he noted that his team made too many errors in both matches and “isn’t even close” to meeting program expectations, but is making progress.

“The first weekend we were in here talking about how we didn’t fight the way wanted to,” Hambly said. “(On Saturday), I feel like we fought hard. … What I saw progress in is our mentality and our willingness to put ourselves out there and fight. That’s a step in the right direction.”

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