Illinois volleyball utilizes preseason to work out kinks in offense

Senior+outside+hitter+Jessica+Nunge+readies+to+hit+the+ball+during+the+match+against+No.+14+Washington+on+Sunday.+

Photo courtesy of Andy Wenstrand/Illinois Athletics

Senior outside hitter Jessica Nunge readies to hit the ball during the match against No. 14 Washington on Sunday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Two weeks into Illinois volleyball’s season with just one win on the board, errors have derailed much of the Illini’s preseason.

Tallying 85 errors in the first four matches, and out-erroring the opposition by 23, it has been a rough start to the season for head coach Chris Tamas’ side. 

Despite this, Illinois’ attack has still been strong, highlighted by junior outside hitter Raina Terry’s match-high 17 kill performance in the team’s 3-1 loss to No. 14 Washington and senior outside hitter Jessica Nunge’s 15 kills in Illinois’ 3-1 win over Ole Miss. Combine these big-kill matches with the consistent 27+ assist matches from redshirt senior Diana Brown and the above average support from sophomore transfer opposite Kayla Burbage, and the Illini are in a good place offensively if they can clean up mistakes.

“I think we can be unstoppable,” Nunge said. “When we are all in our rhythm, it’s really hard for other teams to defend us. We’ve got speed, we’ve got power, we’ve got shots, we’ve got a lot of assets on our team.”

A lot of the errors come with the fact that the Illini have been using a very new team along with a new system as well. With the absence of senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins early in the season, Illinois has switched to a 6-2 setter system, fielding both Brown and redshirt freshman Brooke Mosher in recent matches against Washington and Colorado.

“We’re getting close, but we’re just not there yet,” Tamas said after the team’s loss to Washington on Sunday. “I didn’t think (the 6-2) was terrible. At the end of the day, we are waiting to get (Collins) back, and hopefully we can get her healthy by next week. I liked both lineups, and we will change as needed.”

No matter what system is run moving forward as the Illini await Collins’ return from injury, Brown and Mosher have a huge task moving forward. Making it easy on their hitters is something Brown is prioritizing while the team is trying to figure out its best lineup.

“I would like to get (Nunge and Terry) better sets, more one-on-ones and situations they can be more successful in,” Brown said. “I don’t want to pinpoint it to just one thing because I thought many factors went into (the amount of errors).”

The 1-3 start isn’t a great indicator on the Illini’s start to the season. Although they, in the words of Tamas, haven’t “deserved” wins over any of the three losses, the Illini are showing great promise early in the season. If the team can clean up the attack errors, the sky’s the limit for Illinois, a team that is still finding its best lineup and dealing with injury losses while still hanging in there with some of the best in the country.

As the season moves forward, Illinois’ bundle of three matches this weekend at the Dayton Invitational will be a good indicator of where the team is at ahead of the quickly approaching conference play. 

“(Playing games) is really valuable,” Nunge said. “Preseason we are working on our connection, working out the kinks and getting smoother so we can be ready for conference play.”

 

@DrewFriberg9

[email protected]