Illinois kicks off 2021 season at Iowa for first time in over a year

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Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

The Illinois volleyball team places a game during the 2019-2020 season. The team will play its first match of this season today at Iowa.

By Wes Hollenberg, Staff Writer

The Illini will begin their volleyball season starting at 3:30 p.m. with a trip to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes on Friday along with a second match at Iowa at noon on Saturday. This will mark Illinois’ first match play in over a year due to the postponement of their fall season to the spring. The long offseason, however, may have been a blessing in disguise for the Illini, as they boast a roster full of young underclassmen.

“Looking back, we’re a young team,” said redshirt sophomore setter Diana Brown. “Having all of this time to get our freshmen in with us and getting used to the speed and the how strong people are really really helped us. Obviously, as time goes on with any team, you get used to playing next to each other, so honestly, I would say this entire time has been advantageous to us just because we are such a young team and will have some young players on the court.”

For Brown, a stated goal for this season will be to carve out a unique individual identity for this team to help separate them from the illustrious 2018 Final Four team. To her, that team was great and she still sees the banner every day, but now is time to move on.

As far as the matchup with Iowa goes, there is little film to scout due to Iowa having similar roster turnover to Illinois. With a shifted roster for the Illini, both teams will likely have to figure out their matchup on the fly.

“We have no clue (what Iowa will look like),” said head coach Chris Tamas. “I think it’s a good first week for us that it’s a bit of an unknown on both ends, and it’s just going to be purely who can get out there and execute in the moment. As the weeks go on, we’ll obviously have more information with each team that we end up playing, but for the first week, I think it’s going to be a good challenge. Iowa’s going to be a good, solid team over the past few years. We’re looking forward to it.”

For senior Megan Cooney, now a major leader on the team, the new, younger look to the roster has brought a lot of excitement.

“I think that this team is just really special,” said Megan Cooney. “We’ve got so many all-around players. We’re hitting from the outside and the right side all of those pins and just getting really comfortable wherever we’re put out on the court. I think that has been just a great thing for a team to have. All of that flexibility, and just being comfortable where we’re at and just being able to compete next to anyone.”

While the players on the roster may be changing, Tamas is still employing a similar approach for coaching. Some changes will be made based on the different roster, but his core philosophies toward how to play the game have remained.

“I’m a fan of serving fairly aggressively, so you’re still going to see that,” Tamas said. “We’ve got some big arms out there, so you’re going to see a lot of power this year. With power, your hope is control with that too, and we talk a lot about that risk-taking just as we do with the serving part. I think we’ve got some decent size, too, so we’re putting up some pretty huge blocks in the practice gym right now, and hopefully, we can make the right reads in the game and adjust to anything our opponent throws at us.”

@WesHollenberg

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