Illinois volleyball loses defensive specialist to injury over 1-1 weekend

Ilinois+defensive+specialist+Brandi+Donnelly+passes+the+ball+during+the+match+against+Stanford+at+Huff+Hall+on+Friday%2C+Sept.+8.+The+Illini+lost+3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Ilinois defensive specialist Brandi Donnelly passes the ball during the match against Stanford at Huff Hall on Friday, Sept. 8. The Illini lost 3-0.

By Christian Evans, Staff writer

Lone senior Brandi Donnelly was injured in the Illinois volleyball 1-1 over the weekend, as they lost to Purdue on Friday but rebounded Saturday with a win over the Indiana.

It was IlliNOISE night on Friday and the crowd set a new program sound record with 116 dB; however, the energy was not enough as the Boilermakers defeated the Illini in straight sets.

In all three sets against Purdue, Illinois were within striking range late but couldn’t salvage the opportunity.

During the first set, Purdue was up three points on two separate occasions, at 18-15 and 21-18, but Illinois fought back to tie the match at 23-23. Back to back points by the Boilermakers ended the ended the set at 25-23.

In the second set, the match was close early at 13-12. An 8-2 run by the Boilermakers put them up 21-14 and they never looked back, as they took the second set at 25-19. Illinois senior Brandi Donnelly injured her knee in this set as well.

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In the final set, Purdue had a late lead of 22-18 but a kill by sophomore Beth Prince brought the Illini within striking distance at 22-19. The Boilermakers responded with three straight points to take the match.

Illinois had a quick turnaround as they had to face Indiana on Saturday without Donnelly, but they rose to the occasion as they beat the Hoosiers 3-1.

Juniors Ali Bastianelli and Jordyn Poulter lead the team. Bastianelli had 16 kills on 30 attempts and added seven blocks as well. Poulter approached a triple-double, as she had 47 assists, 12 digs, and seven blocks.

Illinois jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the first set against Indiana and never trailed until five straight points gave Indiana a 19-17 lead. The Hoosiers held the lead from then on and took the set 25-22.

Head coach Chris Tamas said that Donnelly’s absence affected them.

“It took us awhile to get going, part of that is attributed to Brandi not being in there,” Tamas said. “ But we challenged them to fight as a team, and they did that tonight.”

The Illini accepted the challenge as they took the final three sets and had a hitting percentage over .300 in each.

Bastianelli said it was the team’s effort that made the difference.

“In our gym, we try really hard to have a relentless pursuit of excellence,” Bastianelli said. “ That means going after everything, and we take it personally if the ball hits our floor. It is always nice to see that people are laying their bodies out just so we can get that next point. I thought we especially showed that tonight.”

A lot of players also stepped out in Donnelly’s absence on the defensive end. Sophomores Annika Gereau and Caroline Welsh, along with freshman Morgan O’Brien all had double-digit dig performances.

Tamas said that the team was able to step up because everyone has gotten the reps.

“We just had to adjust and move on,” Tamas said. “We practice in a way that everyone sees every position, especially our defenders. They have been doing a nice job with that all season in practice, and it showed in tonight’s match too, so I am happy to see that.”

The main difference against Indiana was that Illinois was able to execute late in matches. All three set wins by the Illini were decided by five points or less.

Tamas said that the team will have to keep converting in those situations.

“We are gonna find ourselves in close matches often,” Tamas said. “ It was good to see that we were able to take those moments and convert points out of them.”

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