Illini volleyball sweeps Creighton Classic

By Stephen Bourbon

In the final test before the grind of Big Ten play begins, the Illinois volleyball team closed out the non-conference season on a high note.

While the Illini had dips in energy this weekend at the Creighton Classic, they were still able to get results.

The Illini (8-3) completed their second perfect weekend of the season with three consecutive victories to take home the Creighton Classic title. Freshman libero Brandi Donnelly was named tournament MVP, while Liz McMahon and Katie Stadick were each named to the All-Tournament team.

Donnelly had 59 digs and just three errors when receiving serves over the weekend.

“I think she was the most consistent of everybody,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “She didn’t have a poor match in any of them.”

McMahon was second on the team with 33 kills on the weekend, hitting .256 overall.

Stadick had a career day against Colorado on Saturday morning. The sophomore posted new career-highs in kills, total blocks and attempts, with 20 attempts and eight each of kills and total blocks.

“It’s cool to see her get a lot of opportunities offensively,” McMahon said. “Lately, teams have been committing and trapping the middles so they haven’t been able to get a lot offensively, but this weekend the setters did a good job of getting to them.”

Matches against Creighton and Colorado were both four-set affairs, something Illinois hadn’t yet experienced this season. Coming into the weekend, the Illini were 5-1 in three-set matches and 0-2 in five sets. Against the Buffs and Bluejays, the Illini quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead before dropping the third set.

Prior to this weekend, Illinois had experienced a letdown against Virginia Tech, where they led with a chance to close out the match only to lose in five sets.

“I wouldn’t make a big issue of it until we don’t finish it,” Hambly said. “I think the girls are working through what they need to do during the break. That’s part of the learning process, every team is different.”

McMahon thought it was important to show the team could come back after a lull in performance and earn a victory, not once, but twice.

“We kind of backed off a little bit,” the senior said. “It was really good to see us (close it out). They were coming at us pretty hard Friday night and it was a tough fourth set.

“It was good to see us put away a team in four and not have it extend to five.”

It was a battle of undefeated teams on the weekend in the finale when Illinois faced South Dakota. There would be no third set letdown in this one, however. The Illini were able to pull out a 25-22 win in the third set to complete the weekend sweep.

“They’re legit. I thought they were the toughest team to close out,” Hambly said. “They weren’t afraid of us or anybody. I thought we did a good job overcoming their push and winning the set.”

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @steve_bourbon.