The Daily Illini

Illini block, usually a weapon, falls short against Purdue

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Jordyn Poulter (1) jumps up setting the ball for her teammate to spike against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Oct. 15, 2016. Illini beat Northwestern 3-0.

Jordyn Poulter (1) jumps up setting the ball for her teammate to spike against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Oct. 15, 2016. Illini beat Northwestern 3-0.

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

Jordyn Poulter (1) jumps up setting the ball for her teammate to spike against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Oct. 15, 2016. Illini beat Northwestern 3-0.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

With Ali Bastianelli at the helm, the Illinois volleyball team’s front line has been arguably its best defensive weapon all season.

Bastianelli leads the nation in blocks per set with an average of 1.78. Behind her, the Illini have recorded 2.88 blocks per set this season, good for second most in the Big Ten and 11th nationally.

The block has been the most consistent weapon head coach Kevin Hambly has had this season, which is why it was so surprising that it fell short Saturday against Purdue.

While the Illini still managed to out-block the Boilermakers 12-11 on the night, it was Purdue’s block that caused more problems to its opponents. Throughout the match Purdue’s big, physical front line made it difficult for the Illini to find clean shots, and in the fourth set they managed to hold the Illini to a .088 hitting percentage.

“We were just swinging low and hard, just trying to bounce balls (off of the block),” outside hitter Michelle Strizak said. “It’s been a while since we’ve played a team as big and physical as them, and I think we just needed to be smarter.”

Hambly reiterated Strizak’s comment about having not played teams with a front line like Purdue’s recently, and also suggested that the Illini’s own block might need some adjustments.

“We didn’t execute the way we wanted to as far as our gameplan on defense,” Hambly said. “We didn’t make changes there, and they scored some points in spots that we thought we should be. I think as a staff we might need to make some more adjustments on the block, potentially.”

Hambly will need his front line to get back to creating points and giving their opponents headaches as soon as possible, as the block has at times helped cover up weaknesses in other parts of the Illini’s game, such as passing.

With next Friday’s match against No. 1 Nebraska looming, Hambly will need his blockers at their best to face off against the only Big Ten team with more blocks per set than Illinois.

Poulter’s play remains strong

While the Illinois volleyball team left Huff Hall Saturday night disappointed with their performance as a team, setter Jordyn Poulter remained strong.

Poulter racked up 50 assists during the five-set loss to Purdue, as well as six blocks and two aces. Poulter is a leader of the team both on and off the court.

Her 50 assists were actually slightly behind her usual pace, as the setter has averaged 10.53 assists per set this season, sixth-best in the Big Ten.

And while her teammate Bastianelli paces the nation in blocks per set, Poulter has averaged a very respectable 0.96 blocks per set. As a setter, her ability to block effectively is matched by very few in the nation.

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