Volleyball opens season with California homecoming for Beltran

This weekend will be senior libero Jennifer Beltran’s homecoming.

The Reseda, Calif., native will get to play in her home state for the first time in her four years as an Illinois volleyball player.

The Illini will open the season this weekend with three matches against No. 18 Florida State, Long Beach State and No. 17 Kentucky at the Long Beach State Mizuno Invitational.

The tournament will be held in Long Beach, Calif., about 50 minutes away from Beltran’s hometown, and a number of people close to Beltran will be in attendance to cheer her on.

“Family, friends, lots of people, so I’m really excited,” Beltran said. “I’ve been waiting for a match out in California and so has my family, so they’re really excited as well.”

While Beltran is eager to go home, Illinois is energized to start a new season and leave last year in the past.

To surpass its 14-16 record from last season, Illinois will rely on newcomers and veterans to bring energy, athleticism and skill to every game. The exact combination of who will play, however, is still up in the air.

“It depends on how we do,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “We’re not a participation sport, so if you earn the right to be out there, you’ll be out there. If someone’s losing the right to be out there, they’ll be taken out.”

Hambly added that for how early it is in the season the team seems to be meshing well.

“I think that’s always a work in progress,” Hambly said. “I think they’re as good together right now as they possibly could be. We’re trying to dial some stuff in and get our starting group more together so some of the younger kids aren’t necessarily mixed in like we did early on. But I think for where we are and how much time we’ve put into it things are pretty good.”

Illinois will not only need to bring a high level of energy and mesh well as a team to succeed but will also have to have a number of other attributes including communication and a defensive mind-set.

“The biggest thing for us is going to be for us to maintain our communication on the court,” Beltran said. “We know that we’re better when we’re all talking especially when we’re being very direct.

“As long as we’re being defensive minded and working hard … we’re going to be good.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and @IlliniSportsGuy.