Illinois opens season in Milwaukee for Panther Invite


Photo Courtesy of Andy Wenstrand

Junior Diana Brown hits the ball during a game against Purdue at Holloway Gym on April 3. The team prepares to play against several different team in Milwaukee this weekend.

By Enji Erdenekhuyag, Staff Writer

Illinois volleyball is back and looking to be better than ever.

The Illini will make their debut in the Panther Invite this weekend at Milwaukee and compete against the Milwaukee, Valparaiso and University of California, Santa Barbara. 

Head coach Chris Tamas, who is entering his fifth season at Illinois, experienced one of his most challenging seasons with the 2020-2021 Big Ten-only schedule. The team ended 7-11 after grappling with COVID-19 protocols and cancellations, multiple injuries and a 10-match losing streak. 

Despite its .389 finish, Illinois managed to change the narrative toward the end and won five out of its last six matches. The Illini even snagged a win against No. 8 Purdue in its season finale. 

With both its returning core of players and young talent, Illinois may be able to spring back into the same momentum. Megan Cooney and Kylie Bruder likely will make impressionable impacts in their fifth years as Illini, as will Ellie Holzman, who has recovered from her ACL injury from last season.

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    First up for Illinois at noon Friday is UCSB. The Gauchos missed a whole season of action, as the Big West canceled fall and spring sports last year. In 2019, the Gauchos boasted a 23-6 record and competed in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013. With its prolonged offseason, though, UCSB still was able to gather and practice. 

    After playing the Gauchos, the Illini will face host Milwaukee at 7 p.m. Milwaukee finished last season 8-6 on a four-match winning streak. The Panthers ranked fourth in the Horizon League’s preseason poll. In their previous matchups, the last one from 2008, Illinois holds a 4-0 record. The match will be available for streaming on ESPN+. 

    The following day, Illinois will compete against Valparaiso at 5 p.m. Over the spring, the Beacons sported an 11-9 record, scoring their first win in program history over Illinois State, the current preseason poll leader in the Missouri Valley Conference. 


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