The Daily Illini

Illini back on track after win

Illinois+setter+Jordyn+Poulter+%281%29+sets+the+ball+during+the+match%0Aagainst+Iowa+at+Huff+Hall+on+Sept.+28.+The+Illini+won+3-0.
Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter (1) sets the ball during the match
against Iowa at Huff Hall on Sept. 28. The Illini won 3-0.

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter (1) sets the ball during the match against Iowa at Huff Hall on Sept. 28. The Illini won 3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter (1) sets the ball during the match against Iowa at Huff Hall on Sept. 28. The Illini won 3-0.

By Brian Binz, Staff Writer

After the Illini sustained their first two losses of the year last weekend back-to-back against No. 3 Nebraska and No. 6 Wisconsin, two of the top teams in the Big Ten, Saturday’s match was more than just another run-of-the-mill sweep.

“In practice after Wisconsin, we got in the gym and really dialed in and honed in on ‘what team do we want to be?’” said senior Ali Bastianelli. “We decided what we were against Wisconsin is not what we want to be.”

Illinois racked up 52 errors in the games against Nebraska and Wisconsin and hit a combined .1915 hitting percentage between the two 1-3 matches.

“Even in some of our early wins, there were things that stuck out, but until you actually lose and have that pit in your stomach after losing, it doesn’t resonate as deeply,” said senior setter Jordyn Poulter.

After the Wisconsin game, Poulter said the Illini’s communication, or lack thereof, led to the loss of easy points. Against Northwestern, she thought the communication and passing was phenomenal.

The Illini and coaches are well aware of the challenges of playing in the Big Ten, which they say is the best volleyball conference in the nation. Other coaches agree, with five of the top 10 teams in the national coaches poll hailing from the Big Ten.

“Everyone comes from the best of the best,” said head coach Chris Tamas. “The budgets are big, so we are able to recruit from all over, so you’re going to see a tough opponent.”

But it isn’t just the top of the conference that makes it so tough, according to Poulter.

“Any given night, home or away, you can be stripped of a victory by anyone,” Poulter said. “If you win against one, you’ve got another tough one either the next day or the next Saturday.”

Bastianelli agreed and said every team gives a different challenge along with a different style.

The consistency of tough opponents forces a level of effort Tamas thinks gives the conference an edge during the postseason.

“It preps you for having to take practice seriously,” Tamas said. “We’d do that regardless of who we are playing, but it really is that edge; it’s like, ‘Nice win, but we go to Minnesota and play at Wisconsin next week.’”

Bastianelli said the losing streak is more of a learning experience than anything else.

The Illini had standout performances against Northwestern from their usual cast: Jacqueline Quade led the team with 11 kills, Jordyn Poulter picked up a double-double with 26 assists and 11 digs and Bastianelli put down seven kills to go with five block assists. However, for Bastianelli, the night was anything but the usual fare.

Bastianelli picked up her 654th block in her career, overtaking Johanna Bangert and coining the school record for career blocks.

But for Tamas, Bastianelli’s impact on the program goes beyond just the stats.

“Great player, even better person,” Tamas said. “She’s a great teammate, gets it done in the classroom, great student of the game and really has worked to improve her game since I’ve gotten here.”

Bastianelli said the record is a reflection of the people she’s played with both in the past and now. Behind her, Illinois held Northwestern to under 20 points in every set, with none of its hitters able to get above a .15 hitting percentage on the night.

The Illini were also efficient offensively, putting up a .368 hitting percentage overall, with four Illini picking up five or more kills.

Illinois moves to 15-2, 4-2 in conference play, and has its sights set on a rematch against Wisconsin, just 10 days after the Badgers defeated the Illini in the latter of their two-game losing streak.

@Binzy_20

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