Illinois volleyball go 2-0 on the weekend

Illinois+middle+blocker+Ali+Bastianelli+%285%29+hits+the+ball+during+the+match+against+Purdue+at+Huff+Hall+on+Friday%2C+October+6.+The+Illini+lost+3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois middle blocker Ali Bastianelli (5) hits the ball during the match against Purdue at Huff Hall on Friday, October 6. The Illini lost 3-0.

By Christian Evans, Staff writer

In its first full weekend of play without senior libero Brandi Donnelly, Illinois volleyball defeated both Ohio State and Maryland.

Freshman Morgan O’Brien stepped in as Donnelly’s replacement and said the transition has gone well so far.

“(Donnelly) is someone who is great to look up to, and she helps me a lot,” O’Brien said. “(She is) constantly giving me tips on where to go and what to do, so it really helps.”

Junior Ali Bastianelli and freshman Megan Cooney lead the Illini in the 3-0 win against Ohio State, both having 11 kills. Defensively, junior setter Jordyn Poulter  the team with eight digs, while sophomore Annika Gereau chipped in seven of her own.

“I expected a few plays to go a little bit funny without having Brandi back there as that anchor,” head coach Chris Tamas said. “I thought the response was really good to a lot of things, so I’m proud to see this team win.”

In the first set, Illinois grabbed an early 5-2 lead, but from then on, there were several ties in the first set. At 18-18, the Buckeyes jumped out to a 22-18 lead with four straight points, but the Illini responded with a 7-1 run to take the first set.

Tamas said winning that set after trailing was huge for the Illini.

“I think the turning point was coming back from 18-22 in the first,” Tamas said. “We have found ourselves in that situation a few times this year and come up on the short end. To come from behind and have that confidence moving forward is a big deal.”

That confidence carried over to the second and third sets, as the Illini maintained their control of the game late when the Buckeyes attempted to make a comeback.

Next, Illinois faced Maryland on Saturday. Team defensive and team effort led the Illini to a 3-0 win against the Terrapins.

Beth Prince and Poulter led the Illini.  Prince had 14 kills on a 0.538 hitting percentage while Poulter had her fifth double-double of the season, with 42 assists and 14 digs.

Poulter led the Illini to a 0.318 hitting percentage overall for the match, and Tamas said that it was their best offensive performance of the year.

“I think we just had the best passing match that we have had in the Big Ten so far,” Tamas said.

Prince said the defense’s ability to adjust without Donnelly was also a huge factor contributing to its win over Maryland.

“Obviously, Brandi not playing is hard for us, but (Morgan O’Brien) has stepped into that role well and all the other defensive specialists digging balls as well have done a great job,” Prince said.

Morgan O’Brien led the defense with 14 digs and two aces.

“We held a lot of their hitters below their season average which is what we look for,” Tamas said. “Some of their other hitters got some kills from the middle that we did not expect, but that is the give and take of focusing on one thing. It was an overall nice job defensively, as we held a Big Ten team under 0.200.”

The team will now be on the road for their next two weekends, as it will face Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.

“Slowly but surely, we are becoming a more steady team,” Poulter said. “ We still make some questionable plays at times, but overall, I am proud of our success and progress.”

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