Illinois volleyball loses seventh-straight match


Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Brandi Donnelly passes the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, October 15. The Illini won 3-0.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

In desperate need of a win, the Illinois volleyball team welcomed No. 2 Minnesota to Huff Hall on Saturday night with hopes of a major upset.

However, from the opening point, it was clear that the Gophers were ranked so highly for a reason, and they went on to sweep the Illini 3-0, extending the Illini’s losing streak to seven.

Twenty-four hours after a loss to No. 3 Wisconsin, Illinois could have used a strong start to build some early confidence.

Minnesota had other ideas, jumping out to a 20-12 lead in the first set.

No matter what the Illini tried on offense, the Gopher’s defense was a step ahead, holding the Illini to a 0.00 hitting percentage early in the match.

The Gophers out-blocked the Illini 8 to 4, a rare feat against the nation’s leading blocker, Ali Bastianelli.

But even when the Illini did find their way around the Gopher block, Minnesota libero Dalianliz Rosado was all over the court, digging balls and saving points. Rosado finished with 14 of Minnesota’s 55 digs.

“They were really good about mixing up their shots, they tried a lot of different things,” libero Brandi Donnelly said. “They work the passers short and deep, they tip short and then they tip deep. They are really good about having strategic plans.”

On the other side of the ball, the Illini fared a little better.

Led by Donnelly and her 25 digs, the Illini held Minnesota to a .200 hitting percentage in the first set. But Minnesota’s began finding holes left, right and center in the Illini defense, climbing to a .326 hitting percentage in the second set. In the third set, the Illini defended better again, but it was not enough to stop the Gophers from taking the set and the match.

“They hit .200 (in the first set), and then they hit .234 in the last one, those are pretty good numbers to hold them to,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “They are a very offensive team. I think the problem was that we made too many hitting errors, not our defense.”

The Illini hit .209 in Set Two and .233 in Set Three behind outside hitter Michelle Strizak’s game-leading 15 kills.

Illinois looked to be a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament as little as three weeks ago, but seven losses has put the team in a position where it may not be able to make it.

On Tuesday, Hambly noted that winning four of their remaining six games would give the Illini “a chance” to make it to the Big Dance, but after this weekend’s results the Illini will have to win out in their remaining games to make that happen.

“I think the wins are there,” Hambly said after the match. “I think it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be tough, but the wins are out there. We just need to play better to make it happen. I believe in them still and I believe we can do this, we just need to get out there and do better and stick to the process.”

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