Crittenden comes alive for Illinois volleyball

Illinois%27+Naya+Crittenden+attempts+to+spike+the+ball+during+the+match+against+Rutgers+at+Huff+Hall+on+September+24.+The+Illini+won+3-0.
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Crittenden comes alive for Illinois volleyball

Illinois' Naya Crittenden attempts to spike the ball during the match against Rutgers at Huff Hall on September 24. The Illini won 3-0.

Illinois' Naya Crittenden attempts to spike the ball during the match against Rutgers at Huff Hall on September 24. The Illini won 3-0.

Karolina Marczewski

Illinois' Naya Crittenden attempts to spike the ball during the match against Rutgers at Huff Hall on September 24. The Illini won 3-0.

Karolina Marczewski

Karolina Marczewski

Illinois' Naya Crittenden attempts to spike the ball during the match against Rutgers at Huff Hall on September 24. The Illini won 3-0.

By James Boyd, Staff writer

The Illinois volleyball team lost to its second top-five team of the season when it fell to No. 2 Wisconsin in Madison. The team did not have a lot of synergy on offense, but individually senior Naya Crittenden upped her play against some of the top competition in the country.

Crittenden struggled against Maryland and Nebraska before bouncing back with a solid nine kill performance in Illinois’ straight set victory over Northwestern. Against Wisconsin, Crittenden was one of three Illini to record double-digit kills, and she led the team with 13.

When Crittenden was in a slump before turning things around in the Illini’s last two matches, head coach Kevin Hambly acknowledged that her struggles were not new to him.

“She’s done this last year too,” Hambly said. “She was kind of up and down and we need her to be more consistent. And so I think her fighting that fight to be more consistent is a big deal.”

Hambly said he would find ways to help his senior get her confidence back and against the Wildcats and Badgers it was clear that she was a different player for the Illini.

Despite her success however, Crittenden was not focused on her strong outing following Illinois’ loss to Wisconsin. Her attention was mainly geared towards her team as a whole.

“In the Big Ten all of us are pretty equal,” Crittenden said. “To be one of the top teams you have to be able to execute all the way through and if we don’t do that we’re probably not going to be what we thought.”

Bastianelli continues to improve on offense

Sophomore Ali Bastianelli is known for her defense. Illinois’ middle blocker leads the team with 114 blocks and leads the nation in blocks per set with an average of 1.81.

Bastianelli recorded a total of nine block assists against Northwestern and Wisconsin but her impact wasn’t just felt on defense.

In Illinois’ last two matches Bastianelli amassed 18 kills including a career high of 11 against the Badgers.

“I just felt very confident in this last game and confidence offensively is what I’ve been working on, especially this year,” she said. “I have confidence blocking and I know I can block, but I think that offensively that’s what I really want to dial into this year. And lately we’ve been getting great passes and that’s created opportunities for myself and Katie Stadick.”

Bastianelli praised sophomore setter Jordyn Poulter for her success thus far this season. Poulter orchestrated the offense with 44 assists against the Badgers, but ultimately neither Poulter’s or Bastianelli’s prowess was enough to help the team to victory.

“It was a battle,” Bastianelli said. “I think we just let go of it a little bit. We lost a little bit of our tenacity at the end of the game and stopped fighting.”

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