Illini volleyball continues success away from home


Illinois’ Brandi Donnelly digs the ball during the game against Purdue at George Huff Hall on Oct. 25.

Julia Conard just likes playing on the road.

For the junior defensive specialist, the draw of the road comes from playing in a gym full of opposing fans and enjoying a good nights sleep in a queen-sized hotel bed the night before.

After this weekend, both Conard and the No. 9 Illinois volleyball team as a whole have a new reason to like the road.

“We have a decent team that can compete with anybody,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “We’ve figured out ways to win over our last seven matches.”

The Illini (18-5, 10-2 Big Ten) swept the Michigan weekend, beating Michigan State in four sets on Friday and coming back from a 2-0 deficit to knock off Michigan in five on Saturday. The two wins put the Illini at 7-2 overall away from home, including significant road wins over Nebraska and Penn State.

Illinois’ weekend wins marked the first time the team has beaten both Michigan and Michigan State away from home in Hambly’s tenure with the team. The last time Illinois was able to accomplish this feat was 2003.

The wins are the latest in a streak of impressive road victories for the Illini this season. Prior to the Michigan weekend the Illini knocked off then-No.13 Nebraska for the first time since 1992 and Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania, for what was only Penn State’s third home loss since the 2011-2012 season.

While Illinois always seems to play well at Huff Hall, accumulating an 8-1 record at home, the team’s play against Michigan shows that they are just as capable of winning on the road as well.

Even to Hambly, who usually comes across as understated, the wins were impressive.

“This is a big deal,” Hambly said.

Illini continue to improve


The Illini still have a lot to learn and if you ask Hambly, that’s a good thing.

While Illinois beat both Michigan and Michigan State on the road in the same weekend for the first time in 11 years, Hambly said the Illini could still improve across the board.

“The thing I liked is that we’re winning and we’re still this team that’s unfinished,” Hambly said. “I think we have a lot of work ahead of us.

“There’s a lot more growth in this team.”

Although he pointed out areas where the team could make improvements, Hambly also praised Illinois for its will to win over the weekend. The Illini are in the midst of a seven-match win streak.

“We’re winning matches,” Hambly said “This team is learning how to win and is finding ways to win, but we still have a long ways to go as a team.”

Libero honored for play

For the third time this season Brandi Donnelly was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week.

The freshman libero finished the weekend with 44 digs and nine assists in two matches against Michigan State and Michigan over the weekend.

Donnelly averaged 4.89 digs per set over the two matches.

Hambly said Donnelly’s on-court growth can be attributed to the extra time she put in last spring with former libero Jennifer Beltran.

“She had to learn how to get in the right spots and what to see,” Hambly said. She’s still learning a lot. She’s far from perfect, but I think she’s way ahead of where she would have been if she just came in as a freshman.”

For Donnelly, it looks like her work with Beltran is paying off.

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @IlliniSportsGuy.