Illinois volleyball starts Big Ten play with two road wins

Illinois+outside+hitter+Jacqueline+Quade+%287%29+gets+ready+to+dive+for+the+ball+during+the+match+against+Stanford+at+Huff+Hall+on+Friday%2C+September+8.+The+Illini+lost+3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois outside hitter Jacqueline Quade (7) gets ready to dive for the ball during the match against Stanford at Huff Hall on Friday, September 8. The Illini lost 3-0.

By Gavin Good

The Illinois women’s volleyball team (11-2) beat both Indiana and Northwestern this week to start off 2-0 in the Big Ten.

The Illini have won five matches in a row since losing to Stanford and Colorado in the Big Ten    /Pac-12 Challenge.

Head coach Chris Tamas said the team has improved on their ability to execute.

“We are playing against better competition, so it is testing us on how we can maintain our execution levels, and I think we are doing a great job with that,” Tamas said. “We are battling for every point and that is really good to see as a coach.”

In their first Big Ten match against Indiana (11-2) on Wednesday, Illinois once again impressed on offense.

Sophomores Jacqueline Quade and Beth Prince, both Indiana natives, had 25 kills combined. Junior Ali Bastianelli joined them with 10 kills and 5 blocks.

The first set was the most competitive, as there were 14 ties and seven lead changes. At 23-23, back-to-back Indiana errors gave Illinois the 1-0 lead. Illinois would go on to take early leads in the second and third sets against Indiana as well. While the Hoosiers closed the gap to within three in both sets, the Illini were able to close out in both to win their first match in Big Ten play in straight sets.

Prince said the Illini need to be able to bounce back when they are down early against teams as well.

“I think it is always awesome to get a jump on a team, especially in the Big Ten because everyone is good,” Prince said. “However we need to be prepared to bounce back if a situation comes up where we have to battle back on a team that gets an early lead on us.”

In their next match in the Big Ten, Illinois faced Northwestern (10-4) late Saturday night.

Against Northwestern, the team was again able to clinch a straight-set victory. In the first set, it was 21-21 and Illinois scored four of the final six points to win 25-23. In the second set, it was 20-18 and Illinois went on a 5-1 run to win 25-19.

Tamas said the team was able to deliver late in those sets against Northwestern and Indiana because they were comfortable in the moment.

“I think we just got better as the matches went on,” Tamas said. “You get use to the environment and how the team serves and plays overall, and you improve based off of that.”

Illinois gave Northwestern no hope in the final set, as their defense held them to 13 points to lead them to a 3-0 win. In the match overall, the Illini held the Wildcats to a .168 hitting percentage and forced them into 21 errors.

Senior Brandi Donnelly had 11 digs, while freshman Megan Cooney had five kills and four blocks. Cooney got off to solid starts in her first career games against Big Ten competition, as she also had six kills in the win against Indiana.

Cooney said she expects even more of herself moving forward.

“The upperclassmen have really helped a lot, telling me where to hit and place my blocks,” Cooney said. “I’d still like to contribute more, but I think it will come with time.”

With the wins over Indiana and Northwestern on the road, the Illini now have some momentum in the Big Ten as they continue their four-game road swing next week with matches at No. 2 Penn State and Rutgers.

Tamas said the team’s solid performances this weekend occurred because of the time and effort they have put in so far this year.

“Any win in the Big Ten is a good win,” Tamas said. “To get two on the road right off the bat is very good. This was really just a product of all the hard work that they have put in.”

@CEvans_13

[email protected]