Illinois volleyball drops out of AVCA Top 25

By James Boyd, Staff writer

Entering last weekend, the Illinois volleyball team hadn’t lost consecutive conference matches all season.

Even with a five-set loss to Purdue at home, Illinois was still four games above .500 in Big Ten play before it took on top-ranked Nebraska and unranked Iowa. But two losses to its conference foes has forced the Illini out of the American Volleyball Coaches Association top 25.

This is the first time Illinois is unranked in five weeks. Nebraska’s hitting percentage was only slightly higher than Illinois’s — .186 to .170 — but the difference in the match was highlighted by the Illini’s 10 service errors. Sophomore Jordyn Poulter and senior Michelle Strizak led the team with four each.

Against Iowa it was a different story for Illinois. The Illini looked more formidable against the Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The match went to five sets and in every major statistical category the squads were nearly mirror images of each another.

“Iowa played well,” said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. “They competed hard and came after us. Both teams hit over .300. That’s not a typical match.”

Despite the effort, the Hawkeyes sent the Illini home with their third consecutive conference loss. Poulter said her team must reflect on the losses in order to learn, but added that her team must let them go as well.

“There’s a lot of big matches ahead of us,” Poulter said. “I don’t think we can dwell on the past.”

Naya Crittenden and Strizak continue their steady play for Illinois.
Strizak and Crittenden know this is their last opportunity to win a national championship.

The NCAA tournament is still several weeks away, and the Illini have hit a bit of a rough patch. But, the two seniors continue to be reliable options on the offensive side of the ball.

In Illinois’s last three matches — all losses — Crittenden and Strizak have led the team in total kills with 39 and 34, respectively.

But, both have had their struggles throughout this season.

In the Illini’s first matchup with the defending national champions, Crittenden recorded a negative hit percentage.

When facing Oregon, during Illinois’s four-match losing streak earlier this season, Strizak posted her lowest hit percentage of the year with a total of -.286.

This season has been very up and down for the Illini. At one point they were on a seven-game win streak, but now the team has lost three-straight Big Ten matches. In the midst of adversity, however, Crittenden and Strizak have played some of their best volleyball of the year.

“Everybody’s happy when you win, but we haven’t been winning lately,” Strizak said. “I think we just have to focus on the big picture, our goal. We need to do what we need to do to make it to the tournament and so how we do that is figuring out how to win.”

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