No. 24 Illinois volleyball enters final two weeks of regular season, concludes home schedule

Illini+Volleyball+team+huddle+together+before+their+match+against+Indiana+on+Nov.+12.+The+team+will+be+hosting+their+final+home+game+of+the+regular+season+on+Sunday+against+Maryland+.

Angel Saldivar

Illini Volleyball team huddle together before their match against Indiana on Nov. 12. The team will be hosting their final home game of the regular season on Sunday against Maryland .

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Sitting seventh in the Big Ten and ranked No. 24 in the country, Illinois heads into its final two weeks of the regular season in a relatively good position to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019.

Illinois will travel to Bloomington on Friday night to take on Indiana before returning to Champaign to take on Maryland on Sunday for Senior Day and the team’s final match at Huff Hall this season.

The Illini played the Hoosiers last week, winning in three sets behind 20 kills from sophomore outside hitter Raina Terry and 12 kills from graduate student outside hitter Megan Cooney. Illinois’ offensive efficiency was particularly impressive, notching a .383 hitting clip across the three sets. Since that loss, Indiana lost at home to No. 11 in four sets.

On Sunday, Illinois will honor its graduate students and seniors — Cooney, setter Kylie Bruder and defensive specialist Taylor Kuper — against Maryland in the team’s final home match of the season.

“It’ll be bittersweet playing at Huff Hall for what will be the last time,” Cooney said. “Huff Hall is just such a special place, especially for me. I’ve been here for five years, and that gym has just always brought the energy and the crowd is always so supportive. It’s a great environment to play in, and I’ll definitely miss it.”

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The Terrapins enter the weekend with an 18-10 record, including a 6-10 record in conference play. After starting the season 13-0, which included a five-set upset victory over Wisconsin in College Park, Maryland has cooled off a bit and is on a four-match losing streak heading into the weekend. 

Maryland’s offense is led by sophomore outside hitter Sam Csire and graduate student outside hitter Paula Neciporuka, who have registered 346 and 280 kills, respectively, through 28 matches this season.

Senior middle blocker Rainelle Jones leads the Big Ten in blocks per set with 1.71, while sophomore middle blocker Laila Ricks averages 1.20 blocks per set, good for 10th in the conference. 

Freshman defensive specialist/libero Milan Gomillion ranks first in the Big Ten with 4.81 digs per set, while sophomore setter Sydney Dowler has the eighth-best service ace average and the eighth-best assist average with 0.33 and 9.96, respectively.

Friday’s match is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., while Senior Day will begin at noon on Sunday.

With three players moving on after this season, head coach Chris Tamas is especially proud of this group of graduates, as they’re the first he’s coached from freshmen all the way until senior year and beyond.

“It means everything,” Tamas said. “It’s the only group I’ve coached from freshmen all the way until the end of their time. All the other stops I’ve been at before this, I was an assistant, and I was only there for a couple years, so I never got to truly see anyone start to finish of their career.

“It’s not the same when they’re actually yours and you get to see that growth and development, not just as players but obviously as people. I know they always have a place to come back and call home, so it’s just pretty cool to see and really proud of all three of their developments over the course of their careers.”

@JacksonJanes3

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