O’Brien’s play aids in recent victory


Illinois defensive specialist Morgan O’Brien gets ready to dig the ball during the match against Iowa at Huff Hall on Sept. 28. O’Brien became the third player to receive Big Ten Player of the Week accolades this season.

By Rachel Spencer, Staff Writer

After defeating reigning national champions Nebraska on Saturday, the Illinois volleyball team has plenty of reasons to be proud.

Illinois saw itself rise to the fourth-ranked team in the nation after the win. The only Big Ten team ranked ahead of them is No. 3 Minnesota, as the Illini continue to put together the team’s best overall season since 2011.

And for the only Illinois native on the roster, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Morgan O’Brien, wearing the orange and blue is nothing she takes for granted.

“I looked at other places around, like Wisconsin and Iowa, stuff kind of in the same area, but I wanted to be in my home state,” O’Brien said.

Like many of her fellow students at Illinois, O’Brien hails from the suburbs of Chicago. Before coming to Illinois, she helped lead Libertyville High School to the Illinois Class 4A state championship match during her sophomore year and set her school’s record for digs during her senior season.

Even though she’s just a sophomore, O’Brien is a key player in the Illini backcourt. Throughout the 2018 season, she’s taken over as libero, been named to an all-tournament team and snagged a career-high 32 digs against Nebraska this weekend.

When discussing the team’s win on the road, O’Brien accredits Illinois’ defense.

“On everyone’s part, it was a really good defensive match, and we had been working on that a lot, and it really showed in that game,” O’Brien said. “We were getting a lot more balls up, and previously, we would touch them but not get a play out of them, and we were converting a lot of them to points.”

As the weeks dwindle down and the postseason looms on the team’s schedule, Illinois is trying to stay sharp. Earning multiple Big Ten wins, securing a conference record for senior Ali Bastianelli, and solidifying a victory against the reigning national champions would be enough to lull less experienced teams and players into a false sense of security.

However, a little bit of confidence wouldn’t seem out of place, according to O’Brien.

“We know how good we are, and we work really hard, so I think we have a right to have that confidence because we put in the work every day,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien and the Illini will certainly need that little bit of confidence as they face four more weeks of Big Ten play. While they won’t encounter No. 3 Minnesota again, No. 13-ranked Purdue will close out its Big Ten season at home.

But finishing out the Big Ten season can be fun when you come from the Midwest like O’Brien. The final few games may even come with familiar faces.

“Everyone I played in club (volleyball), everyone is dispersed in the Big Ten; a lot of the people from the Midwest just stayed in the Midwest,” O’Brien said.


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