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Illinois volleyball loss to Nebraska a mix of positives, negatives

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Illinois volleyball loss to Nebraska a mix of positives, negatives

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

 

During the first few matches of the season at Huff Hall, it was rare for Illinois volleyball head coach Kevin Hambly to leave his seat.

As the season has gone on, Hambly has spent much more time standing up, and giving his team advice, as his opponents became tougher and tougher, and the games became more and more important.

Wednesday night’s match against No. 1 Nebraska continued this trend, with Hambly not only standing on the sideline – as close as he could be to his players – the entire match, but he was incredibly animated throughout the match, calling challenges, talking to his players when he subbed them out, and even once holding up play to give advice to Naya Crittenden while she was still on the floor.

Despite Hambly’s best efforts, however, his team fell in straight sets.

The game was a mixed bag for the Illini. At their best, they defended, passed, and hit effectively enough to lead the Cornhuskers for a large portion of set two and briefly in set three. At their worst, the Illini looked outmatched on defense, and out-of-sync on offense, especially during a first set in which they hit a measly .097 percent.

“I thought we played really well at times, but we just couldn’t sustain it, not at the level that they play,” Hambly said. “I thought offensively we did some nice things, but defensively we didn’t execute against their service. They really got going in the middle of the court, and that put a lot of pressure on us and made us scramble.”

Nebraska is one of the best serving teams in the country, and the Cornhuskers were difficult to deal with Wednesday, forcing the Illini offense out of rhythm, and keeping them from setting up the way they would have liked to.

“They were doing a good job of moving it short and deep, hitting the space, driving in flat,” Hambly said of their serving. “They’re a really good serve-pass team. I haven’t seen them lose a serve-pass battle all year. We won’t see a better serve-pass team than that.”

The Illini were also inconsistent. At times their defense came through with big blocks and close digs, and at other times the offense passed well and found good looks for their hitters. The Illini just couldn’t keep executing consistently.

“When our digging was good, our attacking was off, and vice versa,” setter Jordyn Poulter said. “When we’re not consistent throughout, especially against a very consistent team like Nebraska, it’s gonna expose some weaknesses.”

Arguably the biggest bright spot in the match, the Illini servers were able to attack Nebraska, and at times throw them off of their game. Ali Bastianelli and Caroline Welsh recorded the only aces for the Illini, but Danielle Davis, Michelle Strizak, Brandi Donnelly and Beth Prince all contributed to keep the Illini in the match down the stretch.

“I thought we served really aggressively at times, and we got them out of system,” Hambly said. “I thought in the second set we went after it, and I think Beth Prince came in and got them in a lot of trouble. We were more aggressive serving in this match than we have been, and that needs to continue.”

 

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