Illini volleyball strives to come back stronger from weekend losses


Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois outside hitter Beth Prince (8) spikes the ball during the match against Nebraska in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament at the Target Center on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Nebraska defeated Illinois 3-2.

By Gabby Hajduk, Staff Writer

The last time Illinois volleyball dropped its third match of the season was in 2016, the year before head coach Chris Tamas took over as head coach for the team. Over the weekend at the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, the Illini fell to 2-2. No. 16 Washington beat No. 6 Illinois with a fifth set win, and unranked Colorado swept Illinois.

“We played two quality opponents, and you’ll obviously learn about yourself in those moments,” Tamas said. “It’s about being disciplined and not resting on what happened last year to carry us through some of those moments.”

Unsuccessful results this early in the season for Illinois might be surprising to Illini fans and NCAA volleyball followers considering last year’s Final Four appearance for the team.

While the Illini weren’t anticipating such early losses either, they knew a younger team would force a rebuild of team chemistry. Tamas said the tournament proved their team dynamic isn’t perfect yet as the coaching staff is still working to find the “right mix of players” to create positive results.

“It’s always a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” Tamas said. “We’re building toward it every day. We had nine returners and eight newcomers, and it takes time to integrate everyone into the mix.”

“I feel like every day is a better day than the one before. That’s really what we’re looking for. We’re looking for improvement from day one to however many days until the end of the season.”

Redshirt freshman Diana Brown believes the loss to Washington especially proved how much of a team sport volleyball is.

Individuals like Brown, senior Jacqueline Quade and redshirt senior Beth Prince all improved from a statistical perspective. However, the team struggled to perform as a whole, which resulted in the fifth set loss.

“You can’t just have a star match as an individual and expect to win, so maybe we did have great hitting percentages and great passing stats,” Brown said.

“But if we don’t put it all together, the outcome is not going to be positive. I thought individually, we did our job, but collectively, we were not all on the same page.”

Prince also added the Illini didn’t communicate effectively enough, causing “foolish errors” and free points for Washington and Colorado. While Prince and Brown both said the losses taught the team a lot, they don’t believe the results are detrimental to the team’s future.

“We’re just trying to put the pieces together in the puzzle right now,” Brown said. “It’s the beginning of the season. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s not time to peak. Time fixes things.”

The Illini will have more time this week to make adjustments before taking the court at the Redbird Classic at Illinois State this weekend.

“Having another opportunity to go out there with these girls is always something to fall back on as inspiration and is an optimistic feeling,” Prince said. “We’re very fortunate to get the chance to go back out there next weekend and get better. It’s kind of that simple sometimes.”

Success for the Illini might be as easy as just getting another chance to play together as a full, healthy team.

The Illini started the season with three injured players in Prince, redshirt freshman Bruna Vrankovic and sophomore Mica Allison.

All three Illini saw action over the weekend but are still working on finding the flow with the rest of the team. With another week of practice before the trip to ISU, the Illini will have more time to integrate Prince, Vrankovic and Allison, giving them the strength to be a more dynamic team.

“We’re trying to find the right mix of players, but at the same time, we are in very deep, and if we needed a boost from a player, we could easily put them in and mix people around and cause issues for our opponents,” Tamas said. “I’m excited about the depth we have, and I think we’re going to need a handful of players throughout the year to get us to the next level.”

After a tougher practice on Monday, the Illini are excited to get a new chance to play top competition before entering conference play. Tamas said the Redbird Classic gives the team another opportunity to mesh and grow together.

Illinois will start tournament play on Friday against Illinois State before facing Central Florida and Marquette on Saturday.

No. 7 Marquette will be Illinois’ biggest challenge after they climbed the rankings following a road win at Wisconsin last Thursday.


[email protected]