Illinois regroups before taking on fifth-ranked Wisconsin
October 4, 2018
After taking its first loss of the season against No. 3-ranked Nebraska, Illinois has a second chance against a top-five-ranked team, welcoming fifth-ranked Wisconsin into Huff Hall on Wednesday night at 8 p.m.
Illinois has a 5-1 record against ranked teams so far this year, with one of those wins being against a top ten team, Creighton.
In his two years at Illinois, head coach Chris Tamas is 7-7 against ranked teams but has yet to beat a top-five-ranked opponent. Furthermore, in his tenure, the team has only won one set against a top-five-ranked team: set two against Nebraska in last Saturday’s match.
Climbing the mountain
Wisconsin may be the tallest team Illinois will face all year, with “size across the board,” according to Tamas. The Badgers start with a frontline of at least 6-foot-2-inch women at every position, including 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-7 individuals at middle blocker.
Senior middle blocker Ali Bastianelli said the Illini know they are going to be undersized against the Badgers, but that’s no excuse.
“They’re a real physical team that will do different things and continue to test us. We take it one game at a time, one play at a time,” Bastianelli said.
Tamas said he was more encouraged with the Illini’s performance against Nebraska after watching the film, and he is excited for another opportunity against a big ranked opponent.
“We just need to learn how to be in those moments,” Tamas said. “You can’t until you’re in those moments, so we’ve got another one against Wisconsin.”
The matchup against Wisconsin is also Illinois’ first weekday night game of the year, coming just four days after their last match.
Setter Jordyn Poulter said the Illini used the short prep time to work on the mistakes that led to the Nebraska loss, instead of preparing as hard for Wisconsin.
“We focused a lot on ourselves yesterday. Today’s gonna be heavily focused on what they do,” Poulter said.
One of those things is the Illini’s serving game, which Tamas was least happy with in the loss against the Cornhuskers. Illinois had eight serving errors; but even more than the errors, Tamas was unhappy with some of the serves that were inbounds.
“You saw what happened when we gave them an easier serve. They were doing a fine job of putting it away,” Tamas said. “There’s always that fine line and we need to toe the line this year and every year.”
On top of the short preparation time, Tamas was unable to attend practice Monday because he was welcoming the newest member of the Illinois volleyball family, newborn Caroline Tamas.
Caroline was supposed to arrive on Monday, but there were plans in place if she came early during the Nebraska game.
“At points, I wish it had (been during the match),” Tamas said. “Day went well, missed practice yesterday and had a beautiful baby.”
It was almost as big of an event for the players as it was for the second-year head coach.
“We were all so excited, and they have two just adorable kids already,” Bastianelli said. “Now there’s a third Tamas. It won’t be a distraction to us, it’s just an addition to our family and it’s really great.”
Bastianelli noted the players have been happy to watch the Tamas kids grow up since they arrived, and some even created secret handshakes with Jimmy Tamas.
“It helps keep that family atmosphere out here,” Bastianelli said. “It’s fun.”