Illinois travels to Normal for Redbird Classic for final nonconference tournament


Photo courtesy of Craig Pessman/Illinois Athletics

The Illinois women’s volleyball team huddles during the game against the University of Colorado Boulder Sept. 4. The Illini will head to Normal, IL for the Redbird Classic for their final non conference tournament.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Quiet gyms. Conference matches. Restrictions galore.

After a spring season stuffed with special circumstances, Illinois has returned to its regularly scheduled programming. With three weekends against nonconference opponents already under their belt, the Illini will head to Normal for the Redbird Classic. 

Illinois is coming off a solid weekend after it left Omaha with a 2-1 record after wins over the University of Nebraska Omaha and Southern Methodist University and a loss to No. 19 Creighton. 

The Illini are 5-3 on the season thus far, and All-Big Ten first-teamer Taylor Kuper emphasized that the team is slowly improving, regardless of what their record says. 

“Obviously everybody wants a win, but it is still preseason and we’re still learning how to vibe as a team, how to mesh as a team,” Kuper said. “Wins obviously always feel good, but I think even in the losses, we’re learning a lot.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

The first team Illinois will play in Normal will be rival Missouri, which is 2-8 on the season heading into the weekend. Though the Tigers have gotten swept in seven of their eight losses, they still have All-SEC outside hitter Anna Dixon on their roster, while defensive specialist Emily Brown has stepped into a bigger role this season.

Mizzou is coming off a 16-8 spring season in which it earned a berth in the NCAA tournament, beating South Dakota in the first round before falling to No. 9 Ohio State in round two.

Illinois State also made the NCAA tournament, though the Redbirds lost to the UNLV Rebels in the first round. The hosts sits at 3-6 this season and enter the weekend coming off a narrow five-set victory over Wright State.

The Redbirds lost reigning Missouri Valley Conference Setter of the Year Stef Jankiewicz and All-MVC first-teamer Kaylee Martin, though they still have all-conference second-team inclusion Sarah Kushner and All-Freshman Nicole Lund.

Playing against two teams that made the NCAA tournament last year is a good test ahead of a challenging Big Ten slate.

“We want to play teams that are consistently in tournament play because that’s what we’re gonna have to be ready for once we get in the Big Ten season, and if we’re fortunate enough to make the tournament, we’re gonna play these types of teams again,” said head coach Chris Tamas. “I think the preseason is huge as for getting in a groove, trying to figure out what lineups work, trying to figure out what we need to work on before we hit Big Ten play.”

Illinois will face North Texas on Saturday in its final nonconference match. The Mean Green are 6-3 this year and are coming off an 11-11 spring season. The Conference USA foe is heading to the Redbird Classic with momentum after winning two of three matches last week.

North Texas features all-conference first-teamer outside hitter Rhett Robinson, who leads the conference in kills per set at 4.79.

With Raina Terry and Megan Cooney leaving the Bluejay Invitational last weekend with all-tournament accolades, the Illini look to leave Normal with momentum ahead of their Big Ten opener against Iowa next week.

With conference contests on the horizon, setter Diana Brown wants the team to iron out some more minor details before traveling to Iowa City.

“I want to see the little details be better,” Brown said. “I think little details add up to become big things. Communication errors, I want controllable balls to be right on target, I want sets to be right in their windows; you know you can say all these things — ‘I want, I want, I want’ — but in the end it’s still volleyball, it’s still unpredictable and there’s still another team on the other side who also wants to win. I would love to see the little details ironed out, but that’s why we practice every single day.”

Illinois will play Missouri and Illinois State on Friday at noon and 7 p.m., respectively, and it will take on North Texas on Saturday at 11 a.m.



[email protected]