Illinois volleyball triumphs on senior weekend with two big wins

Outside+hitter%2Fright+side+Jessica+Nunge+sends+the+ball+to+the+opposing+team+during+homecoming+week+on+Oct.+3%2C+2021.+Nunge+and+the+rest+of+the+Illini+celebrate+senior+weekend+and+two+victories+continuing+the+teams+winning+streak.

James Hoeck

Outside hitter/right side Jessica Nunge sends the ball to the opposing team during homecoming week on Oct. 3, 2021. Nunge and the rest of the Illini celebrate senior weekend and two victories continuing the team’s winning streak.

By Adam Rosen, Staff Writer

The Illini (15-13, 10-8) came back to Huff Hall for the final homestand of the season, and it was an emotional time with it being senior week. Standing in the Illini’s way were Michigan State (11-17, 2-15), who were just swept by the Illini a week earlier, and the Iowa Hawkeyes, (8-21, 2-16). 

In the first match, Illinois won in four nail biting sets over the Spartans. The Illini swept the Hawkeyes on senior day.

As for the pre-match ceremonies, the seniors all got honored during the week and before the match. Setter Diana Brown, middle blocker Rylee Hinton, middle blocker Kennedy Collins, outside hitter Jessica Nunge and middle blocker Kyla Swanson all were honored throughout the week by the program’s social media account. 

The first set against the Spartans was a back and forth battle, as the story was told by multiple runs by both Illinois and Michigan State. On multiple occasions, both sides went on at least a 4-0 run. However, it was the Spartans who closed the set out with a 4-0 run to win 25-20, as they took advantage of a poor hitting display from Illinois. 

The Illini swept the Spartans a week earlier, but they had adversity to face as they trailed in the match after dropping set one. Though the Illini once again posted a lackluster hitting percentage, they took the set in tight fashion, 25-22 to even up the match.

The Illini looked to grab the upper hand in set three after leveling the match, despite inefficient hitting performances in the prior two sets. That was not the case in set three as the Illini posted a .294 hitting percentage on their way to a nail biting 26-24 win, to take a 2-1 lead in the match.

The Illini were much sharper for the majority of set three; however, the Spartans multiple times got within a point. Illinois ultimately closed the match out with a stronger all-around set four. The Illini won 25-18, sweeping the season series against the Spartans. Nunge led the way, recording 13 kills with a .242 hitting percentage.

On Sunday against the Hawkeyes, the Illini started out slow in set one, before taking control, thanks to Hinton’s five kills on just seven attempts. The Illini rode out a .300 hitting percentage en route to a 25-23 first-set victory.

Going into set two, Illinois had much to clean up, after having six errors in set one. The Illini handily won set two 25-15, spearheaded by a .292 hitting percentage and a nearly mistake-free performance.

With all the momentum in what could be the final set at home for the 2022 Illini, the seniors looked to take charge. Though Illinois had a tough start to set three, they roared back to take the set, 26-24, and the match in a sweep.

With the season winding down, Illinois is on its largest win streak of the season so far, boasting four big wins. Playing the best volleyball of the season in late November is a huge benefit for the Illini, especially if they are tournament bound.

“That’s always what you’re trying to achieve,” head coach Chris Tamas said. “I know (the NCAA committee) is going to judge based on the whole season, so in our last 10 if we can go 8-2 with a win over Penn State, that just goes in your favor. I know there’s no team that wants to see us in their bracket if we are fortunate enough to make it.”

Looking ahead to the final weekend of the season, Illinois makes its final push for a tournament spot against the red-hot Indiana Hoosiers on Wednesday and a final match against the Northwestern Wildcats on Friday.

 

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