Illinois begins climb back to winning ways with home matchup against Rutgers


Sydney Laput

Redshirt senior setter Diana Brown sets the ball during the game against Maryland on Sept. 23.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

A double of sweeps at the weekend saw Illinois drop to 3-3 in the Big Ten, losing to No. 13 Penn State and beating Maryland for the second time this season. Illinois received no votes in the weekly AVCA coaches poll this week as a result.

The team’s loss to Penn State on Sunday came at an unlucky time, the week marking the first Wednesday gameday in its Big Ten schedule, kicking off a series of seven matches with just three days in between matches. This gives the team less time to prepare for each match and negatively affects how the team can fix mistakes.

Despite this, team members are still optimistic about their chances of winning, as three days off at this point in the season is what they were prepping for in the offseason.

“I think it’s a season-long preparation,” redshirt senior setter Diana Brown said. “We have to control what’s on our side of the net, and we have to remember (Rutgers) is in the same position too. But it’s still the same preparation: We’re scouting, we’re watching film, all of that.”

Over the course of this stretch, the Illini play Rutgers twice and five Big Ten teams who have been ranked in the top 10 this season: No. 3 Nebraska, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 10 Minnesota and once more against No. 14 Penn State.

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After such a rollercoaster start to Big Ten play, Rutgers appears to be a must-win matchup for Illinois. Still yet to take down a ranked opponent, the Illini need every win they can get ahead of arguably their toughest test yet.

 Losing sets is a part of volleyball, but in this stretch, head coach Chris Tamas says success starts with a simple idea. 

 “Hopefully we don’t (drop sets),” Tamas joked. “But, it’s about being good the next time you step on the floor and that next time for us is practice before we play tomorrow. That’s just how we look at it … we still just have to play our game and get better everytime we step on the floor.”

Rutgers is 7-11 this season with only one conference win over Michigan State on the board. It has been over two weeks since the program’s last win, so it is coming to Huff Hall hungry for a win to kick start its climb back to an even record. 

In the Scarlet Knights’ victories, graduate student middle blocker Megan Vernon has been instrumental, tallying 11 blocks over Michigan State in five sets. Illinois’ hitters in redshirt freshman Brooke Mosher and junior Raina Terry will need to shoot better than in previous matches if they want to send Rutgers down to 1-6 in conference.

Good news for Illinois comes from senior outside hitter Jessica Nunge being back in practice. The senior went down in practice with an ankle injury just six hours before the team’s first match of the conference season and has missed four weeks of play. Although Tamas is reluctant to comment on his senior star’s return, Nunge back practicing just a few weeks after injury is certainly a good sign.

“She’s going as fast as she can,” Tamas said. “I tend to not comment on when my players are coming back … but she’s just doing her best to rehab and trying to get back in there.”

Action at Huff Hall starts at 7 p.m. on Wednesday as Illinois returns home for the first time in October as it looks to move to a positive conference record with its match against Rutgers.



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