Illinois volleyball welcomes No. 11 Minnesota to Huff Hall on Saturday


Sydney Laput

Hitter Jessica Nunge jumps and attempts to tip the ball over to Nebraska’s side on Nov. 4. The Illini will host their next match against Minnesota at Huff Hall this weekend.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

After suffering their second sweep of the season at the hands of the No. 9 Nebraska Cornhuskers on Thursday night, the No. 25 Illini return to Huff Hall to take on the No. 11 Minnesota Golden Gophers in yet another ranked matchup.

Illinois struggled against Nebraska, with sophomore outside hitter Raina Terry the only Illini to register double-digit kills in the loss.

Minnesota heads to Champaign on a four-match winning streak, including back-to-back wins over top-10 opponents, beating then-No. 6 Nebraska in five sets in Minneapolis before taking down No. 7 Ohio State on the road on Thursday.

The Golden Gophers are led by senior outside hitter Stephanie Samedy, who was a First-Team All-American in the spring, a unanimous preseason First-Team All-Big Ten selection and the reigning AVCA National Player of the Week.

Head coach Chris Tamas is aware of the threat she brings.

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“No doubt she’s a great player that has a lot of great shots and has a great skill set, but we gotta make sure that … we’re (not) so overly focused on stopping her that we forget about everyone else,” Tamas said. “And so that’s usually how we approach it, and we know if she’s gonna get hers, then we gotta make sure that we’re doing our best to obviously stop her and contain her, but we also have to make sure to look at the defense as a bigger whole.”

Samedy leads the conference in kills (4.70 per set) and points (5.21 per set). As a team, Minnesota ranks first in the Big Ten in digs per set (17.06), while Illinois sits in seventh in that statistical category. The Illini lead the conference in service aces (1.89 per set), with Terry and senior defensive specialist Taylor Kuper leading the way with 0.43 and 0.37 per set, respectively.

Sophomore setter Melani Shaffmaster also has been a big factor for the Golden Gophers, as she leads the team in assists (10.53 per set), which is good for fifth in the Big Ten, while she has a team-high 23 aces.

Tamas has some history with Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon, as he coached both Chris and Illinois volunteer assistant coach Jen Tamas when they played for USA Volleyball, while Tamas also coached under McCutcheon at Minnesota from 2011-2012 while serving as an assistant coach. 

“You always look at anyone who you worked for or played for, you look at them as a mentor, and you’re always going to pull things out that you remember from that time being with them and try to apply it to what we do here,” Tamas said. “But, at the end of the day, we’re our own program.”

Illinois hasn’t beaten Minnesota since 2017, while the visiting Golden Gophers also hold a slight edge in the all-time series history, winning 41 of the 81 matches between the two sides.

Saturday night’s match will start at 6 p.m. from Huff Hall, while it will also be aired on Big Ten Plus.



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