Illinois volleyball looks for two wins in Michigan in wake of NCAA Tournament


Sydney Laput

Redshirt freshman Brooke Mosher (22) and senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins (1) go to block Minnesota’s ball during their match up on Sunday.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Two top-10 losses last week leave Illinois volleyball scrambling for its place in the NCAA Tournament. With just one ranked win so far, the consensus within the roster is that the Illini need to win out in their last six games for a shot in the tourney. This run of six begins with two road matches against Michigan and Michigan State on Friday and Saturday.

“We’ve gotta win,” head coach Chris Tamas said. “I know we’ve gotta win, they know it too. You can’t play any differently than we have been, we’ve just gotta fight and win those extra points.”

Getting those extra points is made significantly easier with some of the personnel Tamas has back in the squad. After being out nearly a month and a half without hitting, senior outside hitter Jessica Nunge was back against No. 9 Minnesota, where she tallied 13 kills and nine digs. Additionally, junior defensive specialist Becca Sakoda was back serving against the Golden Gophers on Sunday, a promising sign for the Illini.

However, although the performance by the two returners helped Illinois challenge, some of the best performers on the day have been mainstays in the Illinois lineup so far this season. Redshirt freshman Brooke Mosher was a huge presence for the Illini, racking up 23 kills — good for joint highest alongside junior outside hitter Raina Terry. Despite playing her first season, Mosher is acting as a veteran, helping keep her team composed in this last six game stretch.

“We definitely just try and not let the pressure get to us and just play free,” Mosher said. “I think playing free (of pressure) is just something that helps a lot.”

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Michigan State is up first for Illinois this week and is likely the match where the Illini can play the freest. The Spartans are just 13-1 on the season, with just one win over Maryland in five sets. With outside hitter Sarah Franklin leaving in favor of the Wisconsin Badgers last season, the Spartans have been left with a team incapable of really challenging in conference play.

Michigan, however, is still receiving votes in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll. The Wolverines are sitting at 9-5 in conference, to the Illini’s 8-6, and have also beaten No. 9 Penn State. Junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik is the Wolverine’s biggest threat to the Illini’s tourney hopes, as she has been instrumental in their biggest wins thus far.

If the Illini win their next two matches, it sends them on a very good path towards the tournament. The road begins Friday evening in East Lansing facing off against the Spartans of Michigan State, before trekking to Ann Arbor to finish the weekend Saturday against the Michigan Wolverines.



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