No. 25 Illinois volleyball continues regular season prep with match against Eastern Illinois

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Photo courtesy of Andy Wenstrand/Illinois Athletics

Redshirt senior setter Diana Brown sets the ball during the match against Villanova on Saturday. The Illini will be up against Eastern Illinois on Wednesday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Three more wins at the weekend for Illinois sends the team into its last week of preseason 4-3, with experience against four NCAA tournament teams. To begin Illinois’ final week of preseason, it heads to Charleston, Ill., to take on Eastern Illinois.

Last time out, the Illini swept their competition at the Dayton invitational, beating their three opposition 9-1 combined set score. Redshirt senior Diana Brown was the tournament MVP, while junior outside hitter Raina Terry and sophomore libero Caroline Barnes made the All-Tournament team alongside Brown.

One of the biggest storylines moving forward for Illinois, however, was the return of senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins, who missed three matches with an injury after the team’s opening match. Her return generated a much different feel in the Illinois lineup.

“It was comfortable,” Brown said. “(Collins) and I have played three years together. All it takes right now is a look and we just know we are ready. She’s gonna put the ball down.”

Heading into the team’s first match against the Panthers in 17 years, the Illini’s national rankings remained the same after a 3-0 weekend. Being the team’s first sign of consistency this season, head coach Chris Tamas was thrilled with the Illini’s progress in the past two weeks.

“We turned a bit of a corner and implemented a lot of things we had been talking about in practice for a while,” Tamas said. “We faced off against those tough teams at the beginning, and I think it paid off. They kind of expose what you’re not good at and give us a chance to work on it.”

The Panthers are sitting at 5-5 on the season going into Wednesday night’s bout. With both teams coming off a three-win streak entering the Charleston gym, the match has potential to be close. The Illini currently lead the all-time series 19-4 over the Panthers, but no match between the two teams in nearly two decades gives Eastern Illinois a nearly clean slate while competing against its most formidable opponent yet. 

Sophomore outside hitter Kaitlyn Flynn has been instrumental in the Panthers’ success this season, earning team-high 29, 19 and 15 kills in each of the team’s last three wins. Neutralizing Flynn is a necessity if the Illini want to extend their win streak to four.

Wednesday’s match against Eastern Illinois is bigger than just practice ahead of this season, however. Tamas said he has had this match in the works for a long time and sees this as a great advertisement for Illinois’ best.

“We wanna showcase Central Illinois volleyball,” Tamas said. “We want fans to come to these matches and see what we can do.”

Action in Charleston begins at 7 p.m. as the Illini go toe-to-toe with the Panthers with the hopes of moving to a four-win streak.

 

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