Brown asserts dominance at net, sets Illini up for success heading into conference play


Photo Courtesy of Craig Pessman/Fighting Illini Athletics

Redshirt Junior Diana Brown sets the ball during the game against the University of Colorado Boulder Sept. 4. Brown asserts dominance at the net which could elevate the team going into conference play.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Having a good, reliable setter is essential to a balanced and dynamic offense. Former Illinois star and one-time Big Ten Setter of the Year Jordyn Poulter was a huge reason why the Illini made a run all the way to the NCAA Final Four in 2018.

Poulter, now an Olympic gold medalist with Team USA volleyball, may have been the star in 2018, but she has since handed over the reins of the starting setter role to current redshirt junior Diana Brown.

Head coach Chris Tamas sees a lot of similarities between the pair, especially with Brown’s recent dominance at the net. 

“I think she’s 12 for 12 in plays at the net or something like that, so we want to be able to use setters when they’re up there,” Tamas said. “We did that in the past with Jordyn (Poulter).”

Brown has been more aggressive at the net this season, as she has already surpassed her total number of kills from last season: Through 18 matches and 71 total sets played last season, Brown had 17 kills, while she already has 20 through 11 matches and 40 sets this season.

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    Despite the jump, Brown didn’t even realize the feat.

    “Really? I had no idea,” Brown said. “We talked about just opening up our offense, and so with me being more offensive, the blockers have to pay attention more to me and not just on our hitters. I also want to give props to my passers because with them, I can’t be offensive.”

    Last weekend, the Illini went 3-0 in the Redbird Classic, going 9-0 without losing a single set. Brown was named the tournament’s most valuable player, registering 103 assists, 17 digs, six blocks and three kills across the two-day competition. The Ohio native was rewarded for her performances with a Big Ten Setter of the Week award

    With Big Ten competition on the horizon, Brown remains one of the top setters in the conference, though she will need to continue her strong start to the season to overtake two-time Big Ten Setter of the Year and First-Team All-American Sydney Hilley, who will be returning to Wisconsin for a fifth season. 

    Illinois will play Iowa on Wednesday in the team’s Big Ten opener, though Brown still wants to see the team show steady improvement each week as the Illini gear up for a difficult conference slate.

    “Our team is still on a positive slope up,” Brown said. “We talked about (how) we don’t want to be playing our best volleyball right now. We want to see the steady incline up, of course, but we don’t want to be at peak Illinois volleyball right now.”

    With two all-tournament selections already under her belt, Brown is ready for her fourth year in Champaign, and Tamas is ready to continue giving his starting setter more opportunities to dominate at the net.

    “Once the ball control gets there and you’re able to push that ball up with a little more accuracy, I think that’s what you’re seeing,” Tamas said. “We’re getting some of that better ball control now, and we can push that up a little bit more for her that she can play at the net, and she’s doing a nice job putting the ball away when she’s up there.”



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