Defense, atmosphere guides Illinois volleyball to a 2-0 conference start


Sydney Laput

Redshirt freshman Brooke Mosher goes to hit the ball during the first set against Maryland on Friday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Illinois volleyball earned two big wins to start off conference play as it swept Northwestern 3-0 on Saturday after a gritty 3-1 win over Maryland on Friday. 

Huff Hall saw its first action of the season and garnered over 4,500 people over the course of the weekend. After a month on the road, being back at home was exciting for the team.

“I love Huff Hall,” junior outside hitter Raina Terry said after the team’s win over Maryland. “The environment is amazing. It’s untouchable.”

In Friday’s bout against Maryland, Terry managed a match-high 20 kills against one of the best blocking teams in the nation. Maryland’s graduate student middle blocker Rainelle Jones averaged the highest blocks per set in the NCAA last season with 1.73. 

Additionally, the Illini faced adversity before first serve, when senior outside hitter Jessica Nunge went down with an apparent ankle injury in morning practice on Friday. 

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Nunge has played lights out volleyball this season for Illinois, garnering 113 kills total, and being one of the Illini’s most consistent servers with 15 aces in 10 matches. Nunge’s injury was a huge blow, but the atmosphere in Huff Hall helped smooth over any wrinkles that may have occurred as a result of the pre-match injury. Redshirt freshman setter Brooke Mosher ended up taking Nunge’s spot, playing in the frontline for her first match ever at Huff.

“Being home in front of all these people is super exciting,” Mosher said after Friday’s win. “We love a big crowd. It’s just super awesome.”

Feeding off of Huff’s energy was instrumental in both wins on the weekend, but in the close sets, it was the big defensive plays that were the difference-maker.

Against Northwestern, each set was a battle, with set one going into a tiebreaker and set three being won as a result of an incredible 7-2 run by Illinois. This run was spearheaded by Terry, who was an offensive powerhouse in night one, but showed her defensive prowess against the Wildcats in night two with five blocks. 

“I think she’s one of the best left-side blockers in the league – if not the country,” head coach Chris Tamas said. “We’re more than happy to have her over there, taking up a lot of space over the net.”

Senior middle blocker Kyla Swanson also joined in on the Illini block party, with seven blocks of her own. Redshirt senior setter Diana Brown even got in on the act, with a huge block in the third set. Uncommon for a setter to get a solo block, Brown’s block characterized the “gritty defense” that Illinois has been practicing this season.

“I think our defense is always gritty,” senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins said after Illinois’ battle with Northwestern. “If the ball does hit the floor, (my teammates) are hitting the floor with it. I appreciate that from them.”

Illinois won’t have the perks of a home crowd for both matches next weekend, but the stoic defensive performances will help, as the team welcomes No. 11 Purdue to Huff Hall on Friday and travels to Madison, Wis. to take on defending national champions No. 6 Wisconsin.



[email protected]