Illinois volleyball back on the road against Iowa and Nebraska

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By Christian Evans, Staff writer

After winning three matches out of their four-match homestand, the Illinois volleyball team will depart from Champaign to face Iowa and Nebraska this weekend.

Head coach Chris Tamas said the team will have to adjust to Iowa’s tendencies.

“Iowa is a little bit like Ohio State,” Tamas said. “They like to run some different patterns, so we will try to go with our simplified defensive plan and put our floor defenders in the best position possible to make some digs. We know they are a team that can play, so a lot of it comes down to execution and taking care of the ball when we have it.”

Iowa (14-7, 3-5 Big Ten) lost its last match against Minnesota on Sunday 3-0. In that match, Iowa’s Annika Olsen had 21 digs, which was the 19th time this season she ended a match with double-digit digs.

Tamas said the team will have to take swings against Olsen based on the flow of the game.

“She is a good libero so obviously you don’t want to hit it in her direction,” Tamas said. “I think you just try to take quality swings, kinda what the set gives you. If she is digging us we might have to switch some shots up but that is the fun of the game. We’ll have a game plan but we will have to see how the match starts off and go from there.”

The Hawkeyes had leads in their first and second sets against the Golden Gophers, but gave up long runs that they were never able to recover from.

Sophomore Jacqueline Quade said Illinois will have to treat every point seriously to avoid a situation like that.

“We need to just play our game and focus on our side of the net,” Quade said. “Also, we need to be dialed in and not take anything for granted.”

Against Minnesota, Iowa’s Jess Janota had a good performance with a 0.389 attack percentage and nine kills. Taylor Louis is also a key player for the Hawkeyes, as she has had double-digit kills in all but five of their matches.

Illinois sophomore Annika Gereau said the defense’s ability to contain Iowa’s top contributors will depend on the block.

“I think we are just gonna have to hope that our block is in the right spot,” Gereau said. “If they get good touches it makes things a lot easier for us. So it is gonna start at the net and we will be behind them if anything gets past them.”

After facing Iowa on Friday, Illinois will play No. 7 Nebraska on Saturday.

Nebraska (14-4, 7-1 Big Ten) has won 12 of its last 14 matches. In their last match, the Cornhuskers held Purdue to a season low 0.134 hitting percentage.

Tamas said the offense will have to avoid becoming flustered against the Cornhuskers elite defense.

“Defense is what they are good at,” Tamas said. “They have a lot of good pieces that they can work with. The challenge will be can we find kills and can we not get frustrated against them because they will make plays where they dig or block our best shot.”

Nebraska’s setter Kelly Hunter had 44 assists and 13 digs in that match against Purdue, making that her sixth straight double-double.

Gereau said Illinois can limit Hunter’s ability to impact the game by hitting serves that make Nebraska move out of its system.

Also in that match against Purdue, Nebraska’s Mikaela Foecke had a season high 21 kills with a hitting percentage of .476.

Quade said while the team has to try and contain her, it is also important it puts pressure on Nebraska as well.

“We definitely need to slow her down and not let her get kills so easily,” Quade said. “But I don’t think there is any real way to stop her completely. We just need to make sure that we are attacking back at the same level.”

Eleven of Nebraska’s 14 wins have come in straight sets and its lone loss in Big Ten play came against Wisconsin.

Tamas said for the team to give Nebraska its second loss in conference, Illinois will have to be clicking on all cylinders.

“Nebraska is traditionally fundamentally sound,” Tamas said. “So it is difficult to get them out of system as they have good ball control and passing. It is just one of those things where we are gonna have to be on our A game.”

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