No. 19 Illinois volleyball continues preseason play with Pac-12 clash against No. 14 Washington, Colorado

The+Illinois+volleyball+team+celebrate+during+the+scrimmage+against+Br%C3%B8ndby+Volleyball+Klub+on+March+9.+The+Illini+will+be+up+against+Colorado+on+Saturday+and+then+Washington+on+Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Andy Wenstrand/Illinois Athletics

The Illinois volleyball team celebrate during the scrimmage against Brøndby Volleyball Klub on March 9. The Illini will be up against Colorado on Saturday and then Washington on Sunday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

This weekend marks the 2022 installment of the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge, as No. 19 Illinois volleyball travels to Boulder, Col. to face Colorado on Saturday and then No. 14 Washington on Sunday.

Last time out, Illinois dropped its season opener to now No. 5 Georgia Tech, before rebounding on Sunday with a win over Ole Miss, bringing its overall record to 1-1 on the season.

After a shaky start on Saturday, the team’s confidence didn’t falter. In fact, some members of the team think Saturday’s result could have been different with more games under their belt.

“Georgia Tech did a great job, nothing against them they are a great team, but I think that it might’ve just been first game jitters,” redshirt senior setter Diana Brown said. “Things weren’t going exactly how they were going in practice, so then you get a little bit nervous here and there.”

Looking ahead to this weekend, Illinois is set to play two tournament teams for the second weekend in a row, and it will be the sixth season running where the three teams will meet in preseason.

“I could write the scouting report right now,” Brown said. “I’m ready to compete with them. We have a little bit more learning to do, but I know these teams, their coaches and their schemes well.”

Against Colorado, Illinois is 5-6 all time with the Buffalo winning the last two meetings. The Illini have never beaten the Buffalo in Boulder before, and the Colorado altitude is likely to play a huge factor in the match. 

With serves playing differently in altitude, senior outside hitter Jessica Nunge’s team-high four aces from the last match are unlikely to reoccur, due to the Buffalo’s practice in higher altitude. Pressuring Georgia Tech’s serves is an area where Illinois struggled, as the Yellowjackets totaled 5 aces on Saturday, so the Illini will need to neutralize the Buffalo serve if they want to win this week.

“It’s tough to play in Colorado,” Illinois head coach Chris Tamas said. “We’ll play at some altitude, which affects how the serve moves a little bit, so that will be an added challenge, but it’s one we’re up for.”

Washington split its opening preseason matches against Arkansas last weekend, losing the first and winning the second. After coming into the preseason ranked No. 11, the Huskies have now dropped to No. 14.

Coming off a season with just five total losses and a Sweet 16 appearance against No. 1 Texas, Washington is a deadly program to come up against early in the season. The Huskies, similar to the Illini’s Sunday match, had three players tally 10+ kills. Junior outside hitter Raina Terry, sophomore opposite Kayla Burbage and Nunge will need to keep up with Washington’s top hitters if the Illini want to complete the upset on Sunday.

With lots of volleyball still to play this season, the Illini don’t want to peak now. While a win would be nice, the priority right now is getting valuable game experience against top teams before conference play and the NCAA tournament.

“We always talk about how in preseason it’s not going to be our prettiest volleyball, and right now we don’t want to peak,” Brown said. “We don’t want this to be our peak volleyball, and I don’t think it was. It wasn’t our greatest and it wasn’t our worst.”

Illinois starts up the weekend’s action at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Colorado, before Sunday’s clash against No. 14 Washington at noon.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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