Illinois volleyball looks for redemption at Ohio State

By Lucas Wright

Aside from riding a four-game winning streak into the Ohio State matchup, which is the team’s second-longest of the season, senior Jocelynn Birks and sophomore Brandi Donnelly added an honor a piece to their résumés.

Donnelly is coming off a season-high 26 digs in the Illinois’ win against Northwestern to bring her season total to over 400 — she has tallied 50 digs over her last two games. She received Big Ten Defensive Player of Week honors for her play.

For Birks, the work has been spread out of the course of her entire college career. As a redshirt, she tallied 510 kills in her freshman year, 500 as a sophomore and 527 as a junior, leading up to her record-breaking year. Early in the Northwestern match-up on Nov. 7, she broke the program all-time kills record, set by Laura DeBruler in 2010.

However, these achievements are now in the rearview mirror for the Illini and ahead of them are the No. 11 Buckeyes.

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Although the Illini have won four straight, the reality behind the record is they have yet to face a top-25 team during the streak. The Michigan Wolverines are the highest ranked team on the list, coming in at No. 36 in the nation. The Illini are 8-6 this year in Big Ten play, and are 0-5 against Big Ten teams ranked ahead of them in the national poll. Ohio State will be the team’s first top-15 opponent since its home matchup with Nebraska on Oct 17.

But while the team has been putting up wins lately, head coach Kevin Hambly was not quick to say his squad is prime position to take down Ohio State.

“We have gotten better. Defensively we’ve figured some things out that we were struggling with,” Hambly said. “But, we haven’t played a top-15 team in a while to know how we actually match-up with those type of teams.”

The atmosphere around this team has been positive throughout the last few games, and freshman Jordyn Poulter believes Illinois is in the right frame of mind going into Columbus.

“We’ve all had to play different roles, and we’ve had to bring lots of energy every single game,” Poulter said. “I think has contributed to how we’ve performed under pressure and how we’ve been able to manage those wins.”

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