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Illinois blocks NCAA competition in home victories

Illinois+setter+Jordyn+Poulter%2C+left%2C+and+middle+blocker+Ali+Bastianelli%2C+right%2C+try+to+block+the+ball+during+the+match+against+Louisville+in+the+second+round+of+the+NCAA+Tournament+at+Huff+Hall+on+Saturday.+The+Illini+won+3-1.
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Illinois blocks NCAA competition in home victories

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter, left, and middle blocker Ali Bastianelli, right, try to block the ball during the match against Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Huff Hall on Saturday. The Illini won 3-1.

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter, left, and middle blocker Ali Bastianelli, right, try to block the ball during the match against Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Huff Hall on Saturday. The Illini won 3-1.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter, left, and middle blocker Ali Bastianelli, right, try to block the ball during the match against Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Huff Hall on Saturday. The Illini won 3-1.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter, left, and middle blocker Ali Bastianelli, right, try to block the ball during the match against Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Huff Hall on Saturday. The Illini won 3-1.


It is unlikely any team wants to face the Illini at Huff Hall.

While the venue is known for its various fan nights — including the ever-popular Stuff Huff and IlliNOISE Night — the crowd for Friday’s NCAA tournament match was nothing short of impressive. Attendance was just over 4,000 and a majority of those present were donning orange and blue.

It was an intense crowd that Eastern Michigan had to deal with during its first NCAA tournament appearance in school history, which certainly made the task of winning much tougher.

The tourney newcomers had to battle it out in the Mid-American Conference to even make it to the first round, upsetting three favored schools just to punch its ticket to the dance — a respectable feat regardless of conference.

However, no team in the MAC could offer the challenges the team staring them down from the other side of the net on Friday could. The Illini are arguably playing some of the best volleyball in the country, and even the most casual follower of NCAA volleyball would have to admit they are a serious contender for a Final Four appearance this year.

Friday’s win was the first match of six in the postseason, and the first step toward Minneapolis for Illinois. The momentum behind Illinois is palpable and after the Eastern Michigan game, it looked even more likely that all the pieces are there for the 2018 season to continue for a while longer.

While there were standout moments from both the offense and defense (senior setter Jordyn Poulter notably put her hands to work while getting some points on-the-go), the night, without a doubt, belonged to the Illini defense. Earlier in the week, many Illini pointed to their blocking game as a crucial aspect, and if Friday’s statistics are any indication, Illinois has addressed those concerns.

During the second set, Illinois defense kept Eastern Michigan in the negatives for hitting percentage, with numbers dropping to a -.115 while Illinois flirted with a .812 hitting percentage throughout the night.

The fact that Illinois managed to keep Eastern Michigan’s percentage so low while maintaining such a high hitting percentage itself made the match the kind that will leave fans talking. Even with usual star attacker Ali Bastianelli having what could be described as an off night, Poulter’s job was made easy by Ashlyn Fleming and Jacqueline Quade — both Illini got eight kills.

After continuing its winning ways against Louisville, Illinois is now 30-3 and the target on its back has only gotten larger. However, when speaking to the press, head coach Chris Tamas said Poulter and Fleming seemed nothing short of prepared for the long road ahead.

There’s little debate that Illinois volleyball has enjoyed a great run this season. But Eastern Michigan head coach Kimi Olson summed up the feelings of every Illinois fan who had the privilege of being in Huff Hall over the weekend.

“Go Illinois,” Olson said. “Go win a championship.”

@rachelspenc

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