Volleyball enters conference season with 2nd best start in school history

The Illinois volleyball team continued to pile wins on its perfect record after another undefeated weekend.

Illinois (11-0) survived its third “five-set match”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2011/09/illinois_volleyball_focusing_on_quicker_starts_quicker_adjustments) of the season with a “win over Louisville”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2011/09/illini_down_big_east_foes_to_remain_unbeaten) on Saturday.

Now, after capping their nonconference season, the No. 3 Illini enter Big Ten to play as one of three undefeated teams in their conference.

“We’re battle tested,” head coach Kevin Hambly said after defeating Louisville. “I love the potential of this team. I just think we have so many weapons. When we start to steady out and figure each other out and really solidify our system, which will happen in the Big Ten, I’m excited to see where this goes.”

No. 18 Michigan and No. 13 Purdue also remain undefeated so far, being 12-0 and 11-0, respectively.

This is Illinois’ second-best start in school history. The record stands at 30-0, which dates back to 1985.

Ms. .500

When senior Michelle Bartsch was struggling, “freshman”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2011/08/freshman_mcmahon_ready_to_make_mark) Liz McMahon stepped up to lift Illinois past Louisville.

All-American Bartsch, one of Illinois’ top offensive players, struggled Saturday, hitting a low .043.

McMahon, though, posted her best night in an orange and blue jersey, hitting .576 and reaching 20 kills for the first time.

In the match against Cincinnati, McMahon also hit .556 with five kills on nine touches. She only had one error on the weekend. That performance from his top freshman recruit has Hambly optimistic, though he knows McMahon still has room to develop.

“It’s great for her to start to figure it out as we get in the Big Ten,” Hambly said. “We’re going to need that kind of balance. We’re going to need her to be very efficient for us.”

New lineup, new team

After boasting a starting lineup comprising mostly of veteran players last season, this year’s Illini squad is donning young faces.

As a junior, Anne Luhrsen is embarking on her first season as Illinois’ starting setter. Sophomore “Jennifer Beltran”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2011/08/4e532297614b1) and freshman McMahon are working to get engrossed into the Illini’s system.

All have frequented Illinois’ starting lineup thus far.

Senior Rachel Feldman has been in and out as Illinois’ starting libero. Hambly has played sophomore Jazmine Orozco to block in specific game situations. He also rotated freshmen Morganne Criswell and Ali Stark in over the weekend.

Not to mention, all five freshmen stand six feet and over. The added height gives a different style to the Illini’s game.

“This is probably the most athletic and most talented team, since I’ve been here, that we’ve had,” Hambly said. “We’re just so physical. I think we played at a higher level at times last year and the year before because we’ve had seniors and juniors out there.

“We can take over matchups at the block, and we could never do that before with Laura DeBruler and those guys,” Hambly added. “They were very good volleyball players … a bunch of All-Americans in that group. But now, we have the ability to play bigger and more physical.”