Illinois volleyball looks to rebound against Michigan State

Illinois%27+Naya+Crittenden+celebrates+a+point+during+the+game+against+Nebraska+on+9-28-16.++The+Illini+lost+0-3.
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Illinois volleyball looks to rebound against Michigan State

Illinois' Naya Crittenden celebrates a point during the game against Nebraska on 9-28-16.  The Illini lost 0-3.

Illinois' Naya Crittenden celebrates a point during the game against Nebraska on 9-28-16. The Illini lost 0-3.

Quentin Shaw

Illinois' Naya Crittenden celebrates a point during the game against Nebraska on 9-28-16. The Illini lost 0-3.

Quentin Shaw

Quentin Shaw

Illinois' Naya Crittenden celebrates a point during the game against Nebraska on 9-28-16. The Illini lost 0-3.

By James Boyd, Staff writer

Wisconsin put an end to the Illinois volleyball team’s two-game win streak and showed why it is now the No. 1 team in country.

In its next match, Illinois will face another tough conference opponent when No. 14 Michigan State makes the trip to Champaign on Wednesday night. The Spartans are 15-3 so far this season and ride a three-match win streak into Huff Hall.

Junior Autumn Bailey leads Michigan State with 188 total kills and is also averaging a team-high of 3.30 kills per set.

Libero Abby Monson anchors the Spartans’ defense with just over three digs per set and 179 digs in her junior campaign.

“We don’t get caught up in their stats,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “There’s spaces we can attack. There’s some things we can do to overload them or misdirect them. I think more importantly we have to pass well and if we pass well, we can play physically with them and we should be fine.”

Michigan State ranks fifth in the nation in opponent hit percentage, but senior Naya Crittenden will look to continue her upward trend on offense.

“There’s times in games earlier this season where I would have a few errors in the beginning and then come back in that game and do well,” Crittenden said. “When I have a slump it’s because instead me just (thinking), ‘Whatever that one didn’t work out.’ I’ll just start swinging away instead of making the right decision.”

Crittenden considers herself to be the Illini’s emotional leader and said that she listens to her coach first and foremost when she gets out of rhythm. She mentioned, though, that her father frequently gives her advice as well.

Crittenden said that her dad was her first coach and even though those days are over, she still looks to him for guidance when it comes to the nuances of her game and personality.

Sophomore Ali Bastianelli recorded a career-high 11 kills against Wisconsin, but said that her team didn’t show enough fight to knock off the Badgers.

“I think we just need to execute at a higher level,” Bastianelli said. “I think it’s more of a mental game for us. Being able to look at each other and rely on each other to score points is big, but I think that just knowing within ourselves that we can execute and make the plays at the end of the game when they matter the most is big for us.”

The Illini are only 9-8 in the first set of matches this season, but are significantly better in the second set with a record of 14-3. Hambly said that his team struggles at the start of matches, but made it clear that it one set doesn’t define a match.

“I don’t really care if we lose the first set as long as we win matches,” Hambly said. “I’m not really caught up in that. I had year where we were 50-50 in the first set and won 26 games.”

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