‘There’s no place like Huff’: Illinois welcomes fans for first time since 2019 for matches against Washington, Colorado


Photo Courtesy of Illini Athletics/Andy Wenstrand

Sophomore Riana Terry dives for the ball during their game against Indiana March 27. Riana Terry is a forced to be messed with and has prepared for the upcoming season.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Raina Terry has already established herself as a force to be reckoned with on the court. 

After a dominant freshman season — which included 17 starts, leading the team in kills, notching six double-doubles and earning a Big Ten Freshman of the Year — the Illini sophomore already has a lot of experience under her belt.

Despite her already impressive resume, Terry has yet to play a match at Huff Hall with fans in the stands, and she couldn’t be more excited.

“I’ve never actually played in Huff with fans, of course, so it was really quiet last year,” Terry said. “When I was recruited and I came to a couple games, it’s just electric in there, especially when it’s stuffed. Everybody’s so loud; everybody’s so excited. They bring so much energy, so it’s going to be really exciting, and I can’t wait.”

Despite an underwhelming campaign that saw the Illini go 7-11 last season, Illinois went on a late-season run to end the year, winning five of their final six matches. With last season’s schedule moved to the spring due to COVID-19 and subsequently shortening the offseason, the team’s momentum has carried over into this new campaign, with Illinois sitting at 3-0 after a hot start to the season in Milwaukee.

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    This weekend will be a whole different beast for Illinois, as it will welcome reigning Pac-12 champion and NCAA Final Four finalist No. 11 Washington and familiar Pac-12 foe Colorado for matches on Friday and Saturday as part of the annual Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge.

    Washington returns several key members of its Final Four team, headlined by First-Team All-American and Pac-12 Setter of the Year Ella May Powell, First-Team All-American outside hitter Samantha Drechsel and Second-Team All-American outside hitter Claire Hoffman. All three players also earned All-Pac-12 First-Team honors and were named to the All-Pac-12 Preseason Team.

    The Huskies are a deep team, as they also boast Pac-12 All-Freshman Team inclusion Madi Endsley and are coached by Pac-12 Coach of the Year Keegan Cook, who is in his seventh season in Seattle. Washington was named the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 for a second straight season by the conference’s coaches.

    After going 20-4 last season, Washington is 1-1 so far this season after being ranked fourth to open its 2021 campaign. The Huskies swept the Ohio Bobcats in three sets in its season opener, though they were upset by the then-No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes, 3-1, in Columbus on Aug. 28.

    Cook and the Huskies are a familiar foe for head coach Chris Tamas and the Illini, as Tamas and Cook have already squared off three times, with Illinois 2-1 in those matches.

    “I expect them to be an experienced team (that’s) not gonna make many errors, so we’re gonna have to bring our A-game to have a chance to go with them,” Tamas said. “They’re always well-coached, disciplined, and they’ve got some big bodies out there just as we do, so it’s just gonna take a good effort from us and making sure we stay disciplined in what we work on every day in practice.”

    Colorado also brings a threat in the form of three Pac-12 All-Conference honorable mentions: outside hitter Leah Clayton and middle blockers Meegan Hart and Sterling Parker. Clayton, who opted to return for a fifth season, is coming off a strong opening weekend after being named the Charlotte Invitational’s Most Valuable Player and the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.

    The Buffaloes struggled in the COVID-19 shortened spring season, going 8-12, though their campaign was highlighted by upset wins over No. 12 UCLA and No. 11 Utah. The team was voted to finish ninth in the Pac-12 in the preseason coaches’ poll.

    Like the Huskies, the Buffaloes are a familiar foe for Tamas and the Illini, facing off with Colorado and head coach Jesse Mahoney three times. The Buffaloes hold the advantage, 2-1, in the series between the two head coaches. 

    After a 3-0 weekend in the Charlotte Invitational, Colorado comes into Champaign with momentum. Junior Kennedy Collins, who was named the Most Valuable Player at the Panther Invitational last week, knows how important momentum is for a team’s confidence.

    “At the end of the day, we always say a W is a W, so it didn’t matter how it looked or how we did it,” Collins said. “It does boost our confidence just to know we have a few wins under our belt going into this weekend.”

    Deciding to return to Illinois for a fifth season, graduate student Megan Cooney has played in the rowdy atmosphere in Huff Hall, and after not being able to compete with fans in the gym last season, she can’t wait to get the fan base back in the stands.

    “I just want to show (fans) what Illinois volleyball is about,” Cooney said. “We went almost a year without fans being able to be in our gym, so they kind of missed out. I’m just excited to get fans back in the gym and kind of show them how hard we’ve been working this past year that they didn’t really get to see, but I’m just excited for them to be back and share these experiences with them and have that fan support base back.”

    Illinois will face Washington at 8 p.m. Friday before taking on Colorado at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Friday’s match will air on Big Ten Network, while the showdown on Saturday will be broadcasted on Big Ten Network Plus.

    “There’s no place like Huff when that thing is rocking, and it’s electric,” Tamas said. “You get the goosebumps and the arm hair standing up, and I think it’s awesome.

    “I expect it to be loud, and I expect it to be a difficult place for opponents to play in, so we’re really looking forward to it.”



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