Illinois sweeps Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge

By Brian Binz, Staff Writer

The Illinois volleyball team boosted its winning  streak to five with a pair of wins in the Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge in Seattle.

After blanking No. 21 Colorado in the first round of the tournament, Illinois  took No. 13 Washington to five sets (25-18, 25-20, 22-25, 25-22).

Illinois got strong play from its front line, with middle blocker Ali Bastianelli and setter Jordyn Poulter receiving All-Tournament team honors, and outside hitter Jacqueline Quade picking up the Tournament MVP.

“(Quade) was very steady over the weekend,” said head coach Chris Tamas. “(She’s) able to handle it all.”

Quade totaled a team-high 31 kills on the weekend, with a high hitting percentage, and picked up an ace in both games.

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For Poulter, Quade’s has given her a nice safety blanket on the outside.

“When we are struggling passing, being able to kinda just chuck up a ball to a pin and know she’ll put pressure on the other side gives me confidence,” Poulter said.

The All-Tournament trio shined brightest in the last game against No. 13-ranked Washington, where Quade led the team with 18 kills, Poulter racked up 50 assists and Illinois got 10 more blocks than Washington, with Bastianelli picking up seven.

“Obviously, your regular blocking is important, but it also sets up your floor defense too,” Tamas said. “If you have teams trying to avoid blockers, you can have your defenders in the right position.”

Overall, Illinois’ offense was dominant over Washington with hitting stats at a season-high in the second and third sets. Junior Ashlyn Fleming also led the squad with eight of the team’s total 15 blocks against the Huskies.

Illinois outhit its opponents in both games, holding Colorado and Washington to bleak hitting percentages.

While last weekend Illinois jumped out to leads early in both games, it allowed both Colorado State and Northern Colorado to rally and force a game five. This weekend, the Illini closed the door, sweeping the Buffalo in three games and besting the Huskies in four.

In the decisive fourth game against the Huskies, the Illini were able to respond to a four-point Husky run after a timeout by Tamas, winning four of the next six points to take a 21-19 lead they would not relinquish.

“We were really good at keeping our momentum going,” Quade said. “No one likes going to five.”

Tamas agreed and said he liked the team’s consistency more this weekend.

The Illini’s out-of-conference resume continues to improve, now with three of their first five wins being against ranked opponents, and two of those being true road games.

For Poulter, it’s a good thing the Illini aren’t taking the beginning of the season easy.

“To be able to play very good opponents is fun,” Poulter said. “If we see a Big Ten team later on in the tournament, we know what they’re doing, but to be able to get good wins against other competitive conferences is invaluable.”

The Illini will look to continue their undefeated out-of-conference schedule in Cleveland for the Cleveland State Invitational next weekend.

“It was a great team effort all the way around,” Tamas said. “We are playing some really good volleyball.”


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