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Webhead: Illini Volleyball rise above Omaha

Naya+Crittenden+jumps+to+spike+the+ball+against+Iowa+last+year+at+Huff+Hall.+Illinois+won+3-0.
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Webhead: Illini Volleyball rise above Omaha

Naya Crittenden jumps to spike the ball against Iowa last year at Huff Hall. Illinois won 3-0.

Naya Crittenden jumps to spike the ball against Iowa last year at Huff Hall. Illinois won 3-0.

Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Naya Crittenden jumps to spike the ball against Iowa last year at Huff Hall. Illinois won 3-0.

Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Naya Crittenden jumps to spike the ball against Iowa last year at Huff Hall. Illinois won 3-0.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

In its opening match of the Billiken Invitational, the Illinois volleyball team took advantage of its height en route to a three-set sweep of the Mavericks.

“(The height advantage) was a huge factor,” head coach Kevin Hambly said.

The Illini offense had no trouble capitalizing on their edge on the Maverick blockers, as five Illini hit .500 or better and the team as a whole hit .458. One of the biggest beneficiaries was senior Naya Crittenden, who led the team by hitting .700.

“A lot of times, once I got into my rhythm, it was almost like there was no block,” Crittenden said. “It was a pretty big advantage for us.”

Beyond their height advantage, though, the Illini offense played very well throughout the match. Setter Jordyn Poulter got into a rhythm with her hitters and found them open looks throughout the match.

“I think that Jordyn did a really good job of connecting (with her teammates),” Hambly said. “I thought we passed well; we did a nice job offensively.”

Hambly was also impressed with the team’s defensive performance. He said that the block played well, and made life difficult for the Omaha outside hitters. The stat sheet agrees with coach Hambly on that point, as the Mavericks hit a measly .068 percent in the match, and the Illini picked up nine blocks. Leading the way in blocking again for the Illini was sophomore Ali Bastianelli, or Kid Block as she is affectionately known, with 5 block assists and a solo block.

The Illini had little trouble dispatching the banged-up Mavericks, but they shined in the second half. Allison Palmer came in to serve, and led Illinois on an 11-0 run that blew the set wide open. Palmer had three service aces on a night where the Illini had eight total.

“We served very aggressively,” Hambly said. “I liked our approach tonight. I think that would be an appropriate approach to the Big Ten games. I’m not sure we’ll get eight aces all the time, but I think we could be OK if we do that.”

Illinois plays Chaiffetz Pavilion again tomorrow at 10 A.M. when they take on Murray St., and then again at 7 P.M. to take on the hosts, St. Louis University. Crittenden and Coach Hambly both said they expect tomorrow’s games to be more of a challenge, but Hambly isn’t focused on the Illini’s opposition at the moment.

“I think the teams tomorrow will be more challenging,” Hambly said. “Omaha was really banged up, which is unfortunate for them, but I’m more worried about us, and finding our rhythm.”

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