The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Meet the Illini: Pan, Barry infuse winning mentality into Illinois volleyball

Candice Zhou
Setter Diana Brown sets the ball for her team against Minnesota on Nov. 16, 2022.

Illinois volleyball has had a shaky start to 2023, currently holding a 5-4 record. The Illini are represented by 16 hardworking players who are led by head coach Chris Tamas and his staff. Blocker Kennedy Collins and Columbia libero transfer Vanessa Pan are the team’s lone graduate students. Outside hitter Jessica Nunge serves as the only fifth year on the team, while outside hitter Raina Terry comes in as the only senior on the roster. Hitter Kayla Burbage and libero Caroline Barnes entered the season as juniors.

Underclassmen include redshirt sophomores middle Sarah Bingham and setter Brooke Mosher. New addition libero Maddie Llewellyn comes in as a sophomore. The Illini’s redshirt freshmen are middle Cari Bohm, setter Bianca May and outside hitter Sophie Stephenson. Lastly, libero Lily Barry, outside hitter Taylor de Boer, middle Gabby Dean and setter Maya Imoto-Eakin round out the squad as the true freshmen.

With the season just beginning, many of the players have personal and team goals they want to accomplish. The Illini wouldn’t be as successful without their mindset of always wanting to improve and grow. As a freshman, many new adjustments are necessary. For Barry, these adjustments were made both on and off the court.

“I was honestly not nervous about the volleyball aspect,” Barry said. “I mean obviously, you have nerves as a freshman, but just being able to balance my schoolwork, my class schedule, my practice and traveling, I was always pretty nervous about. But I’ve gotten a lot of help from my teammates and people outside of volleyball. My teachers are great, they understand my schedule very well and they help make adjustments for what I need when I’m traveling.”

On the flip side, there are Illini like Pan who are experiencing their final year of collegiate volleyball. Similarly, however, Pan feels there are adjustments to be made after transferring from Columbia to Illinois.

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    “I’m really glad I made this decision,” Pan said. “After looking at a few options, I ultimately chose Illinois and I’m loving it so far. When I came to visit, I watched a few practices, and I just really liked the coaching staff and seeing how the team interacted made me want to come here.”

    Balancing school work along with other commitments is something that many students at Illinois learn to handle. Barry and Pan are able to balance their life thanks to the resourceful coaching staff and teachers they have access to. However, this also brings inevitable challenges.

    “I knew coming in, it was going to be hard,” Barry said. “We’re always the underdog in the Big Ten and we know that, but it just makes us work harder. We come in everyday and work hard and the expectations that our coach sets for us is very high. We try to meet them and if we don’t, we come back in the next day and push ourselves harder.”

    “Illinois volleyball definitely plays at a much higher level than my previous schools,” Pan said. “So just seeing how I adjust, I’m definitely a little nervous about that.”

    Barry also mentioned that she notices the games are a lot faster compared to high school and she’s working on making the adjustment going from an outside hitter to a libero for Illinois.

    Illinois volleyball holds high standards for their players, but also balances it out with lots of love and support. Both Barry and Pan expressed how they came to Illinois because they could see how dedicated the coaching staff were to them.

    “It’s very family-oriented here,” Barry said. “The coaches care about you not only as a volleyball player, but more as a human.”

    The relationship between the players is a mirror image of the coaching staff and the players.

    “The group dynamic of the team is great,” Barry said. “We all get along very well, and we all have the same standards. Being close off the court helps us to be even closer on the court. I would say we’re all pretty much best friends because we do the majority of everything together.”

    “We all really care for each other,” Pan said. “We want everyone to succeed.”

    When asked what personal goals Barry had, she stated she’s always aiming to be one of the best ranked liberos. Additionally, as a team goal, she aims to see Illinois win the Big Ten — something achievable with the current roster.

    Pan, on the other hand, wants to cherish her final year of volleyball and give it her all.

    “I just want to enjoy my last year of volleyball,” Pan said. “I want to see what the highest level I’m capable of playing at and just have fun, mostly.”

    Being a college-level athlete also comes with many opportunities that Barry and Pan appreciate. They are both looking forward to traveling and visiting all the different schools. Pan specifically mentioned how she’s looking forward to the Big Ten matchups, particularly the home games at Huff Hall.

    Illinois volleyball is not hesitant to set high standards for itself and is willing to put in the hard work to achieve those goals. The support from the coaching staff, team and fans all contribute to make the program what it is today. With room to grow based on the Illini’s pre-Big Ten record, fans can look forward to seeing that growth become a reality as they begin to bring home win after win.


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    About the Contributor
    Candice Zhou, Assistant Photo Editor
    Hey! My name is Candice Zhou, and I’m a junior majoring in accounting and finance. I joined The Daily Illini in spring 2022 as a photographer and am now the assistant photo editor. I love music and singing (I am currently in a band called Too Soon!). I also like traveling, watching movies, playing tennis, etc. Fun fact about me: I am a DJ! If you have any questions, feel free to email me!
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