Illini bring top 10 battle to Stuff Huff


Austin Yattoni

Illinois middle blocker Ali Bastianelli (5), outside hitter Jacqueline Quade (7) and defensive specialist Megan O’Brien (16) celebrate after outside hitter Beth Prince (8) scored a kill during the match against Nebraska at Huff Hall in on Sept. 29, 2018. The Illini lost 3-1.

By Brian Binz, Staff Writer

Like in years past, the Illini received an outpouring of support for this year’s team during the annual Stuff Huff event.

On Saturday 3,569 fans came to watch the game, most of them rooting for the Illinios volleyball team to continue its undefeated streak.

Among those several thousand were a number of important Illini sports figures, such as softball head coach Tyra Perry, Athletic Director Josh Whitman, men’s basketball head coach Brad Underwood and both of the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Moreover, the student section, also known as the “Spike Squad,” filled the stands from the floor to the last row in the upper section.

The line for tickets before the game extended over a block across the outside of Huff Hall, consisting of many wanting to see the top 10-ranked Big Ten clash.

“The crowd was amazing tonight,” said senior middle blocker Ali Bastianelli. “We couldn’t ask for a better Stuff Huff night, having the band there and the full spike squad.”

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    Familiar territory

    The loss marked the second time women’s volleyball head coach Chris Tamas has faced and been defeated by Nebraska since he moved to Illinois in the summer of 2017.

    Tamas is familiar with the Cornhuskers’ players and system, having coached at Nebraska in the past, but he said his old allegiances were wiped away the moment the Cornhuskers and the Illini were on opposite sides of the net.

    “We are all competitors then,” Tamas said. “There’s no emotion. I’m happy to see them, and I give everyone hugs at the end, but when we are on the court, it doesn’t factor into me at all.”

    Tamas spent three years with the Cornhuskers, and four of Nebraska’s current players were active when he was an assistant coach there. Tamas has yet to take one over his previous employer, with the Illini now losing in four sets to the Cornhuskers in both meetings during his tenure, as of Saturday.

    Ace in the hole

    For most of the Illini it was a night to forget, but backup setter Kylie Bruder had a moment to remember on Saturday.

    The sophomore came in during the third game and promptly collected an ace against one of the best serve-receive teams in the Big Ten and the nation.

    “It was kinda spur of the moment,” Tamas said. “Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been putting in Kylie because she has a great serve and she plays great defense, so it’s one of those situations where she’s ready to go, and she had a nice couple runs.”

    A measuring stick

    The Illini scheduled a hard nonconference schedule on purpose. Tamas wanted to prepare his team for the Big Ten, which features seven ranked teams, as best he could.

    Illinois faced a number of ranked opponents and defeated them all, the highest being then No. 10-ranked Creighton.

    However, on Saturday night, the Illini learned that no amount of preparation can prepare for the top level of the Big Ten.

    “We are doing a lot of really good things, but now the issue is keeping it going throughout the match,” said outside hitter Jacqueline Quade. “We are learning from this, but we are always looking forward.”

    After Saturday, the Illini’s record against ranked teams this year falls to 5-1. However, Nebraska is the highest ranked team Illinois faced, which has showed the team a new level that they need to reach.

    “I think tonight was really good pointing out what weaknesses other teams are gonna exploit, and we weren’t necessarily the best,” said setter Jordyn Poulter. “I think that there are small tweaks we will make going into this week’s matches.”

    Under Tamas, the Illini are 7-5 against ranked teams and 0-4 against top -five teams.

    Illinois will have a chance to get its first top-five win of Tamas’ Illini career Wednesday when the Wisconsin Badgers come to Champaign.


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