Illini volleyball drops 2 spots after Stuff Huff

After an inconsistent effort in the first home series of the year for the 4-4 Illinois volleyball team, the Illini have dropped two spots, from No. 14 to No. 16, in the third AVCA coaches poll.

Washington (6-0), who beat Illinois over the weekend, jumped three spots, from No. 6 to No. 3. Texas (5-2), who also beat Illinois but got swept by Arizona State (8-1), dropped from No. 2 to No. 6. Arizona State’s effort against Texas moved them into the rankings for the first time this season at No. 18.

Head coach Kevin Hambly has repeatedly said rankings are meaningless to him and his team. This is evident in Hambly’s planning, in which he scheduled as many top-ranked opponents as he could for the Illini’s nonconference play. Nine of 10 nonconference games scheduled this year are against top-25 ranked opponents. Hambly said he believes a tough schedule will help his team in conference play (which also has seven ranked teams currently) and in getting a berth to the NCAA tournament.

Illini get dominated in blocks

Heading into the weekend, the Illini were top in the Big Ten and seventh in the nation in blocks per set; however, after getting beat in blocks by a total of 42.5 to 29.5, the Illini have dropped to fourth in the conference in the category with a 2.71 average.

“When you talk about defense, it really starts with the serve,” Hambly said after Friday’s loss to Washington. “I think everyone looks at blocking, but the serve is the first line of defense and when you lose that battle, it’s going to be hard to stop people, especially with as many weapons as (Washington has).”

The Illini allowed 10 service aces to Washington in a four-set game that proved to be Illinois’ largest defeat of the weekend. The Illini did not allow more than five service aces to Texas and Arizona State combined through a total of nine sets, which resulted in tight matches.

“Stuff Huff” draws 11th largest crowd

Approximately 3,538 fans packed Huff Hall for Illinois’ eighth annual “Stuff Huff” event against Washington, which ranks 11th most in Huff Hall history and the second most for the promotion. The record for the promotion was set last season, when 3,770 fans showed up to witness the Illini sweep No. 15 Iowa State. There have been only three “Stuff Huff” games where the attendance has reached 3,000.

Unfortunately for the Illini, the loss against the Huskies marked the first time the team ever lost since the promotion began in 2006. Washington was the highest ranked opponent Illinois has hosted for the promotion.

Beltran approaching digs record

Senior libero Jennifer Beltran needs only 92 digs to break the school record set by Ashley Edinger in 2009. Beltran led the team in digs in two of three matches this past weekend and holds the top two records for digs in a season for Illinois, with 623 and 571 coming in her first two seasons in orange and blue. Beltran has 135 digs this season and averages 4.09 per set, good for fifth in the Big Ten.

Blake can be reached at [email protected]