The Daily Illini

Illinois volleyball defeats Northwestern

Illinois%27+Ali+Bastianelli+%285%29+attempts+to+spike+the+ball+during+the+match+against+Northwestern+at+Huff+Hall+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+7%2C+2015.+Illinois+won+3-1.
Illinois' Ali Bastianelli (5) attempts to spike the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. Illinois won 3-1.

Illinois' Ali Bastianelli (5) attempts to spike the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. Illinois won 3-1.

Karolina Marczewski | Assistant

Karolina Marczewski | Assistant

Illinois' Ali Bastianelli (5) attempts to spike the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. Illinois won 3-1.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

Illinois volleyball head coach Kevin Hambly and his Illini all seemed to be in agreement before Wednesday night’s match at Northwestern,

While their record hasn’t been spectacular, the Wildcats have given the Illini lots of trouble in the past, especially in Evanston, so the Illini were not going to take the match lightly.

This mentality worked wonders for the Illini, who rolled to a 3-0 win against the Wildcats.

Middle blockers Katie Stadick and Ali Bastianelli terminated points early and often, and Stadick finished the match with a team-high 10 kills and a .600 hitting percentage.

“We talked a lot about trying to play through the middle and the right side against them” Bastianelli said. “We had looked at the way they blocked against other teams. We had a lot of opportunities, and we played really well together tonight.”

The Wildcats were without starting libero Sarah Johnson, who missed the game with an injury. However, they still had setter Taylor Tashima and outside hitter Symone Abbott. Abbott came into the game leading the Big Ten in kills per set, and she has given the Illini headaches in the past.

But the Illini held Abbott to eight kills on 30 swings, with nine attack errors Wednesday, . Hambly said that the team’s defensive gameplan kept Abbott off of her game, but Bastianelli saw it a different way.

“I think that our serving kept them out of system,” Bastianelli said. “And that kept her from playing as well as she usually plays. Our servers did a good job and we blocked well when they were out of system.”

Serving has been a focus for Hambly and the Illini all season, and in the past few games their efforts have paid off. The Illini had seven aces against Northwestern, and their aggressive service has kept their opponents out of their systems.

Danielle Davis, who led the team with three aces, explained the way that scouting has helped the servers find weaknesses in their opponents.

“We do a lot of scouting of where (our opponents) will be during each rotation,” Davis said. “We try to find places where we can hit it and keep them on their toes. Coach is always telling us to attack, attack, attack.”

Davis was also a major part of the Illini passing game, which was much improved against the Wildcats. The Illini have struggled at times to pass effectively, but Wednesday night showed an improvement.

“I thought we passed really well,” Hambly said. “We passed better than we have in a long time. We worked hard at it, it was a big part of our game plan.”

If the Illini can start to pass like they did against Northwestern more consistently, they will have a much easier time with the rest of their schedule. Hambly, Bastianelli and Davis all stressed the importance of improving in the serve-pass game against teams like No. 2 Wisconsin, who they face on Saturday.

When asked what he hopes will carry over from Wednesday night to Saturday, Hambly immediately knew his answer:

“Obviously passing,” Hambly said. “First touches and passing. Always.”

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@Jacob_Diaz31

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