Illinois volleyball concludes preseason with doubleheader in Milwaukee

Senior+outside+hitter+Jessica+Nunge+hits+the+ball+during+the+Eastern+Illinois+match+on+Wednesday.+The+Illini+are+heading+to+Milwaukee+this+Saturday+to+end+their+preseason+with+matches+up+against+Illinois+State+and+No.+19+Marquette.+

Photo courtesy of Andy Wenstrand/Illinois Athletics

Senior outside hitter Jessica Nunge hits the ball during the Eastern Illinois match on Wednesday. The Illini are heading to Milwaukee this Saturday to end their preseason with matches up against Illinois State and No. 19 Marquette.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

After a rocky start to the season, No. 25 Illinois volleyball finds itself 5-3 ahead of its last weekend of preseason play. Saturday will be the team’s last action before conference play, as it heads to Milwaukee, Wisc., to face Illinois State and No. 19 Marquette.

Midweek, Illinois picked up its fourth win in a row over in-state rivals Eastern Illinois. Senior outside hitter Jessica Nunge took over on Wednesday night, tallying match-high 14 kills and four aces. She credits her teammates for putting her in positions to score.

“They had my back and I had theirs,” Nunge said. “It just let me play freely.”

Looking forward to the weekend, the Illini are set to take on the Redbirds first. Trailing the overall series history, 30-28, Illinois is no stranger to the formidable opponent that is Illinois State.

Coming off a tough 3-0 loss to Memphis, Illinois State is 6-3 on the season. The Redbirds’ offense is strong, as many players have had high kill games this season. However, junior setter Nora Janka has been the consistent threat of the Redbirds. If she can keep up with redshirt-senior Diana Brown and the arms of the Redbirds are accurate, the Illini will have a tough match on their hands.

Later in the day, Marquette will be Illinois’ third ranked opponent of the season. Dropping matches to Georgia Tech and Washington earlier in the season showed Illinois its flaws early in the season. Marquette will be a great litmus test for Illinois ahead of conference play.

The Golden Eagles are coming off a strong start to the season, only dropping a match against defending national champions No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers. In its season opener, Marquette took down No. 11 Kentucky in five sets. An already proven team in the Golden Eagles is likely to give the Illini one of its toughest matches yet.

Head coach Chris Tamas is no stranger to either team, having played both multiple times during his tenure.

“They’ve always been battles,” Tamas said of his meetings with both teams. “We look forward to some tight (matches) this weekend and hopefully we come out with a couple wins.”

The Illini’s weekend begins at 10 a.m. Saturday with its bout against the Redbirds before their match against the Golden Eagles at 6 p.m. to cap off the preseason.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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