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Mid-season slump costs Illinois volleyball tournament berth

Michelle+Strizak+jumps+up+alone+to+block+the+spike+from+Wisconsin+at+Huff+Hall+on+Friday%2C+Nov.+11%2C+2016.+Illini+lost+to+Wisconsin+0-3.
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Mid-season slump costs Illinois volleyball tournament berth

Michelle Strizak jumps up alone to block the spike from Wisconsin at Huff Hall on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Illini lost to Wisconsin 0-3.

Michelle Strizak jumps up alone to block the spike from Wisconsin at Huff Hall on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Illini lost to Wisconsin 0-3.

Elisabeth Neely

Michelle Strizak jumps up alone to block the spike from Wisconsin at Huff Hall on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Illini lost to Wisconsin 0-3.

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

Michelle Strizak jumps up alone to block the spike from Wisconsin at Huff Hall on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Illini lost to Wisconsin 0-3.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

The Illinois volleyball team won three of its final four matches, but it wasn’t enough to offset the seven-game losing streak that preceded as the Illini failed to make the NCAA tournament. Nine other Big Ten teams qualified with Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin receiving No. 1 seeds.

This is the first time since 2012 that the Illini have failed to make the postseason, and only the second time they have failed to do so in Kevin Hambly’s eight-year tenure as head coach.

The Illini finished the season with a 17-14 record overall, and a 10-10 record in the Big Ten conference. The team finished tied for seventh in the conference, their second-worst mark under Hambly.

As recently as Oct. 21, the Illini looked well on their way to making the tournament. Sporting a 7-2 record in conference play and ranked in the AVCA Top 25, the Illini almost seemed to be a shoo-in for a postseason berth.

But the very next day, the Illini fell in five sets to Purdue at Huff Hall, sparking a seven-game losing streak, with losses to the top three teams in the country.

The Illini had a very difficult run of matches, and while none of the losses were particularly bad, the Illini evidently needed to get something more out of that stretch to secure a postseason berth.

The Illini won three in a row heading into Saturday, but wins over Rutgers, Maryland and Ohio State proved not convincing enough to sway the selection committee. Illinois had one final chance to impress the committee at No. 10 Penn State on Saturday, but the Nittany Lions took care of business, handing the Illini a 3-1 loss.

The selection committee’s decision brings to an end the careers of seven Illini seniors: Katie Stadick, Michelle Strizak, McKenna Kelsay, Katie Roustio, Danielle Davis, Allison Palmer and Naya Crittenden.

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@Jacob_Diaz31

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