Volleyball stays on winning track

By Meghan Rest, Assistant sports editor

The 2018 season marks Illinois volleyball’s second-consecutive trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 under second-year head coach Chris Tamas. But the NCAA tournament isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Illini.

The 44-year-old program has made 25 NCAA appearances and clinched four Big Ten conference titles since the formation of the league. Despite finishing second at the tournament in 2011 under head coach Kevin Hambly, the Illini have never made it past the NCAA Final Four, even though they have collected a national title.  

For the last decade, Illinois has made consistent appearances in the NCAA tournament, with exceptions in 2012 and 2016.

In 2007, the Illini finished just 8-12 and missed the tournament under head coach Don Hardin. However, in 2008, the program recovered and not only revisited the tournament but also went 26-8 and finished in the NCAA Sweet 16. While 2008 marked Hardin’s final year with the Illini, the program would see more consistency in the postseason over the next four years.

During the 2009 season, Hambly began his tenure with Illinois by returning the team to the Sweet 16 with a record of 26-6 overall and a second-place finish in the Big Ten. The next year yielded similar results, with the Illini going 24-9 after making it to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year. Illinois also reclaimed their second-place spot in the conference in 2010.

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    The 2011 season marked Illinois’ fourth 30-plus-win season (32-5) competing in the NCAA, and it also set program history as the Illini’s furthest stint in the tournament. The Illini finished the NCAA tournament runner-up to UCLA in four sets.

    However, the 2012 season saw a drastic change in the program’s streak of success. The Illini, still under Hambly, finished the season 14-16, eighth in the Big Ten and suffered the program’s first losing season in 10 years.

    The next year, Illinois returned to the NCAA tournament with Hambly. From 2013-2015, Illinois not only made NCAA tournament appearances but also reached to the Sweet 16 each season.

    But in 2016, Illinois missed the tournament again after a 17-14 record on the season, finishing eighth in the Big Ten. The 2016 season also marked Hambly’s last with the team.

    The 2017 season saw a lot of internal program changes, but current head coach Chris Tamas refueled the Illini. He produced awinning season with Illinois (23-11) and catapulted the squad back to the NCAA Sweet 16. Last year, Illinois notably toppled No. 8 Washington on their home turf after beating Hawaii in the first round. The Illini were knocked out of the Sweet 16 after a 3-1 loss to the Michigan State Spartans.

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