No. 25 Illinois looks to snap losing streak at Dayton Invitational

Sophomore+outside+hitter+Kayla+Burbage+%289%29+and+senior+middle+blocker+Rylee+Hinton+%282%29+jump+to+block+the+ball+during+the+match+against+Ole+Miss+on+Aug.+28.+The+Illini+will+be+up+against+Missouri+State+on+Friday.+

Photo courtesy of Andy Wenstrand/Illinois Athletics

Sophomore outside hitter Kayla Burbage (9) and senior middle blocker Rylee Hinton (2) jump to block the ball during the match against Ole Miss on Aug. 28. The Illini will be up against Missouri State on Friday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

No. 25 Illinois volleyball kicks off its third weekend of the season at the Dayton Invitational on Friday, with a match against Missouri State and then matches against Villanova and Dayton on Friday.

After a weekend of two losses against Colorado and now-No. 13 Washington, Illinois is looking to snap its losing streak.

After out-erroring their opposition by 23, and tallying 85 errors total in just four matches, the Illini have been working in practice to revitalize their new attack, which features sophomore transfer opposite Kayla Burbage, senior middle blocker Rylee Hinton and redshirt freshman setter Brooke Mosher. 

With so many new faces in the lineup, head coach Chris Tamas has been focusing on trying to find his best lineup in the preseason. Unfamiliarity has been a result of some of these changes, and over time he expects a big improvement.

“The overall thing that we are fighting with right now is just a little bit of inexperience and being used to each other on the floor,” Tamas said. “We see a lot of really good glimpses in practice, and I think we saw a lot more glimpses this weekend than the first weekend, but we’re still making a few too many mistakes on our side of the court.”

Senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins is likely to make her return to the lineup this weekend after a brief period out due to injury.

Collins is the usual starter over Hinton, but has been out for the past three games with an injury picked up against Georgia Tech in Illinois’ first match of the season. With the senior’s return looking likely for this weekend, Tamas is likely to revert back to his original starting lineup against Georgia Tech.

“(Not having Collins) changes the offense a little bit,” Tamas said. “Some of her strengths are pretty particular to her. She’s gotten really good at the slide attack off one foot.”

The Illini face three extremely different teams this weekend. In its first stop against 5-1 Missouri State, Illinois is the heavy favorite. Illinois won the two teams’ last meeting in 2017 by a score of 3-2.

Villanova is coming off an impressive run at the Villanova Classic, where it reached the final before dropping in five sets to Fairfield. Although 3-3, Villanova’s strength of schedule has been relatively lackluster. With no top-25 teams faced in Villanova’s first six games, it remains a wildcard for Illinois.

Dayton is the only team at the weekend that shares a similar opponent with Illinois, having faced Georgia Tech just six days after the Illini. With both teams losing to the No. 5 ranked Yellowjackets 3-0, this matchup is likely to be the toughest for the Illini.

With another weekend of match experience ahead, the Illini are focusing on a few specific things ahead of the quickly approaching conference play. Being more aggressive on serves helped Illinois take down Ole Miss in its only win of the season so far. 

With this in mind, the team has been polishing its play, and focusing in on a few key things in practice before Friday’s contest.

“Serving was a big focus of ours, so we came in here and hit some really aggressive serves, just to prepare us for next weekend,” Burbage said. “And then (also) we are picking up our defense. We’re a really good defensive team, and we really want to capitalize on that.”

Action begins Friday at 4 p.m. as Illinois takes on Missouri State. The competition continues Saturday at 10 a.m. with its match against Villanova, before playing host Dayton at 6 p.m. in the final match of the tournament.  

 

@DrewFriberg9

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