Volleyball wins 2 of 3 at Long Beach

The Illinois volleyball team got off to the start it wanted, winning two out of three matches over the weekend against two AVCA top-25 ranked teams at the Long Beach State Mizuno Invitational in Long Beach, Calif.

The Illini opened up the season by sweeping No. 18 Florida State 3-0 before dropping three consecutive sets after taking a 1-0 lead against host Long Beach State later that day. The Illini bounced back against No. 17 Kentucky the next day, winning in five sets despite dropping two of the first three.

“It was good to come out 2-1 in this tournament,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “It’s a tough tournament. We of course would rather have been 3-0 and thought we had a chance to, but we just didn’t play up to our level in the second match against Long Beach State. I think we learned a lot about our team, we saw and tested our depth.”

Freshmen Katie Stadick, Katie Roustio, Maddie Mayers and sophomore Kathryn Polkoff made their debut over the weekend, each making contributions against top competition.

“I was a little nervous, but I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be (heading into the game),” Mayers said. “I definitely felt good going into the first match this weekend.”

Hambly said his team learned a lot in its first matches of the year.

“I think everyone played except for one person on the weekend,” Hambly said. “Everyone contributed and made plays and did things, and that’s exciting to see. I think we learned how to compete and fight, especially in our last match versus Kentucky.”

Of the players who made their debut, Mayers made the biggest impact after redshirting last season. The freshman middle blocker garnered 11 kills in 16 attempts to hit .625 against Florida State and hit .458 with 13 kills to go along with nine blocks against Kentucky in the team’s second win of the season. She also recorded seven blocks against Long Beach State.

“I think (redshirting) helped me immensely,” she said. “I definitely got stronger. I got quicker. I loved it.”

Sophomore setter Alexis Viliunas turned in a strong but inconsistent performance, Hambly said. Viliunas registered a total of 117 assists in the three contests, including 50 in the team’s five-set win against Kentucky. She also added 23 digs overall, but Hambly thought another stood out.

“Jennifer Beltran was really good all weekend,” Hambly said. “I thought she was exceptional. She was probably the one that stood out as the most consistent player.”

Beltran led the team in digs over the weekend, tallying 51 through the three matches.

Illinois will head to Ames, Iowa, this weekend for the Iowa State Challenge, where it will face San Diego and host Iowa State.

Blake can be reached at [email protected]