Illinois volleyball, Nebraska tied for No. 1 in Big Ten

The top of the Big Ten remains unshaken.

Both the Illinois and Nebraska volleyball teams survived five-set battles over the weekend and are tied for first place in the conference at 8-0.

No. 1 Illinois (19-0) avoided a “comeback attempt from unranked Michigan State”: on Saturday to hold onto the top spot in the country for the fourth straight week.

Nearly halfway through the season, the Illini have been one of the hottest teams in the nation. But head coach Kevin Hambly said his squad is far from where he wants it to be, and plans for it to play at its full potential by December.

“One at a time, one at a time,” Hambly said. “I look forward in what we need to do better. I mean, the only reason we look back is to make adjustments. But wins and losses, ranking, those things take care of themselves — if you’re playing at a high level and learning how to win and learning how to compete.”

Nebraska (15-1) moved up to No. 4 in the national rankings after defeating No. 14 Minnesota (11-6, 4-4 Big Ten) on Saturday. Seven Big Ten teams are ranked in the top-25.

*A game of momentum shifts*

What started out looking like a definite 3-0 sweep of the Spartans on Saturday ended up going into five sets.

Looking closely at each set, Illinois and Michigan State went back and forth with the lead, with six lead changes and 15 tied scores in the fourth set alone.

But those momentum shifts are common in the sport, senior Colleen Ward said.

“It’s just something you have to deal with,” Ward said after Saturday’s match. “It just happens a lot in volleyball. But I just thought we came out focused, like I said earlier, in the fifth set. It’s just forgetting about what happened earlier and readjusting to the next set. You can’t really linger about what happened before.”

Michigan State wasn’t the only team that fought back in the third, after losing the first two sets against Illinois.

Just one match before, “against Michigan”:, the Illini got off to quick a start, but then dropped the third, which has happened five times this season.

Hambly doesn’t attribute this pattern to one specific issue.

“I look at every single set and every single point as a unique experience,” Hambly said. “Each one is unique. So I don’t look back at that and go, ‘This is a problem we need to address.’ I look at each one as a unique problem.”

*Another record crowd*

For the first time since 1992, Huff Hall had two 4,000-plus crowds in the same season.

Saturday’s home match had an official attendance of 4,021, the seventh largest in school history.

Back on Oct. 1, the “Illinois-Purdue”: match — a battle between the two remaining undefeated teams in the nation — drew the second-largest crowd in the gym, with a standing-room only turnout of 4,261.

At that time, junior Anne Luhrsen said it felt like there was an extra player on the court with her team.

“It’s cool to be in a sea of orange,” Luhrsen said about Saturday’s attendance. “Once again, it helps us. It’s a positive factor.”