Illinois volleyball begins life without Donnelly against Ohio State, Maryland

Illinois+setter+Jordyn+Poulter+%281%29+tips+the+ball+during+the+match+against+Purdue+at+Huff+Hall+on+Friday%2C+October+6.+The+Illini+lost+3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter (1) tips the ball during the match against Purdue at Huff Hall on Friday, October 6. The Illini lost 3-0.

By Christian Evans, Staff writer

After losing senior Brandi Donnelly to injury over the weekend, Illinois volleyball is looking at upcoming matches against Ohio State and Maryland to show it can still play without its lone senior.

Head coach Chris Tamas expects the whole team to step up and replace her production.

“These situations tend to be a catalyst for other things,” Tamas said. “A lot of people will step in new roles and have to figure out how to play in those roles and fill the void her injury has created. They have been doing a nice job these past couple of days in practice.”

Sophomore Caroline Welsh, who had 12 digs in her against Missouri State, said the defense knows what it has to do to fill that void.

“We all know we have to step up and do a little more,” Welsh said. “We need to have more range and take up more of the court because we don’t have such a staple in left back to get most of the balls. We are trying to change our mindset to every ball is ours.”

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The first opportunity the defense will get to prove it’s capable without Donnelly will be against Ohio State on Friday in Huff Hall.

Ohio State (10-7 overall, 3-3 conference), swept Rutgers in its last match.

Tamas said the Buckeyes are not the typical Big Ten opponent.

“We are gonna see a different type of team in Ohio State,” Tamas said. “They like to run a lot of different routes with their attackers and they are always a good serving team. They do everything slightly different than everyone else which kind of gives that edge. We expect a good fight and we need to study our film to be ready.”

In the match against Rutgers, Ohio State senior Ashley Wenz had a career high 18 kills. In Big Ten matches when she fails to record double-digit kills, the Buckeyes are 1-3.

Tamas said while stopping her will be important, the team is more focused on its own play.

“Containing her is a part of our game plan but we also look at our game plan as a whole as well,” Tamas said. “It’s always about what we do as a team. We have to learn how to slow them down offensively as a team and how to score against them as well.”

Ohio State has lost three of its last four games in the Big Ten. One of those losses came Oct. 6 against Penn State in a five-set thriller.

Illinois junior Jordyn Poulter said Ohio State’s play is unpredictable, so the Illini should focus more on what they can control.

“Every team in the Big Ten is a good team,” Poulter said. “Teams can get hot one night and not be there next game. I think against Ohio State it will be about what we can do on our side of the net that will impact the outcome of the game the most.”

After playing Ohio State, Illinois will face Maryland on Saturday.

Maryland (13-5 overall, 2-4 in conference) was swept by Penn State in its last match Oct. 7. In that final set, the Terrapins tied the Nittany Lions eight times and held a late lead at 22-21.

Tamas said the team’s performance will depend on its ability to respond to Maryland’s strengths.

“Maryland is much improved,” Tamas said. “A lot of it will come down to if we paid attention to the scouting and if we are ready to implement that game plan to be able to step up against any challenges they throw at us.”

Maryland’s libero, Kelsey Wicinski, leads the Big Ten with 4.78 digs per set. She has also led the match in total digs in her last five outings.

Welsh said a player of Wicinski’s caliber will produce regardless, so what Illinois can do well will hold more weight.

“We don’t really focus on one player,” Welsh said. “We just go out there and try to give the tough serves to get them out of system and make it easier for our block and defense. She is a great player and will dig balls, so it is just gonna come down to how we respond on our side.”

Tamas said like Ohio State, Maryland runs a different offense than most.

“They run an offense with two setters, so they always have three attackers at once,” Tamas said. “We have to make sure that we put constant pressure so they cannot run all three at once and get that advantage. It will be a lot about serve and pass game for us.”

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