Nebraska takes top spot after defeating Illinois on Saturday

The Illinois volleyball team, which retained the No. 1 ranking since Sept. 26, is no longer the top team in the nation.

The Illini were bumped down two spots, to No. 3, on Monday after losing to current-No. 1 Nebraska on Saturday night. This is the second time this season Illinois has been ranked No. 3.

The Big Ten still has seven teams in the top-25, and three of those are in the top-10.

Nebraska leads the conference at 10-0, while Illinois is in second with a 9-1 record. Penn State comes in at third (8-2).

The Illini are exactly halfway through the Big Ten season, but will not see Nebraska again in the regular season.

Illinois lacks freshman performance in loss

The buildup to Saturday’s loss to Nebraska was reminiscent of the match Illinois had at Penn State on Oct. 8.

The Illini were playing a top volleyball program in a hostile away environment, and they were trying to keep the No. 1 ranking.

The difference between both matches, though, other than Illinois defeating Penn State and losing to Nebraska, was Illinois freshmen Liz McMahon and Anna Dorn.

Against the Nittany Lions, freshman Liz McMahon and redshirt freshman Anna Dorn had game-changing performances. McMahon hit .270, had 14 kills and was a big presence on the block.

Dorn hit .556, had five kills, zero errors and tied the school record of 13 blocks.

When the Illini faced the Cornhuskers, however, McMahon hit .115 with only six kills. Dorn hit -.400, with zero kills and three blocks.

“We need to get our younger players more consistent, and we knew that,” Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said. “Our two freshmen, who we rely on, Dorn and McMahon, they didn’t have their best matches.

“When we played a team like Penn State they had great matches, that was the difference.”

Another big difference for the Illini was Nebraska’s style of play. Illinois has stressed all season how it likes to force long rallies and slow down the match.

On Saturday, the Illini were caught in a faster pace than they are used to.

“Just at certain times we weren’t working hard enough, we just have to stay in our style of play, which is just grinding it out, working hard and forcing the other team to get in rallies,” junior Erin Johnson said. “I think we got outside of that.”

Illinois’ players believe they didn’t put the right amount effort to defeat a team that is now No. 1 in the country.

“The last two sets it was like a different team came out to play,” senior Colleen Ward said regarding Saturday’s match. “We just didn’t execute, and the effort just wasn’t there and they were just playing great. We didn’t put up a good enough fight.”

Nebraska atmosphere provides look at postseason

One of the positives the Illini took out of the Nebraska match was the atmosphere.

Illinois learned from the experience of playing in front of a sellout crowd and passionate fans.

“I think it was a good opportunity for us to see really intense environment like that,” Johnson said. “The place that we’re trying to get to by the end of the season, there’s going to be hostile environments like that, and I think it was good for us to see how we reacted and just kind of know how we’re going to need to change that for next time.”