Jan. 20, 2014
Champaign, Ill. - The 2014 Fighting Illini volleyball team has a unique opportunity this Spring, as the entire 16-player squad will be in Champaign beginning in January. Incoming freshman Brandi Donnelly and redshirt sophomore Allison Palmer, a transfer from Arizona State, have both elected to begin their Illinois careers this semester, giving the Illini a full eight months to train together before their next NCAA match.
"The Spring should be very exciting," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "We have our entire Fall squad here this semester. We will be able to do some things in practice and in our spring competition that you can rarely do, as far as having a very competitive practice environment and the ability to play in tournaments as split squads. I am excited to see how these new players and everyone develop over the spring. We have the potential to be very good this Fall and the work will be done starting in January."
"I love how Illinois is well-rounded," said Palmer. "The campus is beautiful with so much history, and Illinois offers many great opportunities academically. I am honored to be a part of the volleyball program. The coaches and team are dedicated and hard-working. I am excited to start training with the team!"
This past summer, Palmer was selected as a member of the USA Volleyball Junior National Team, finishing 17th in the 2013 FIVB World Championship in Brno, Czech Republic. Prior to 2013, Palmer had significant experience on the USA Volleyball Youth National Team, including winning the Gold Medal at High Performance Championships in 2010 and 2011 and at the 2010 NORCECA Championships in Guatemala.
A native of Laguna Beach, Calif., Palmer played four seasons for Laguna Beach High School and played club ball for Laguna Beach Volleyball Club from 2003-12, earning experience as both a setter and a libero. Palmer led the Long Beach Breakers to a perfect 36-0 Orange Coast League record over four seasons to win four-straight league championships, while earning Orange Coast League MVP as a senior in 2011. A two-time First-Team All-CIF selection (2010-11), Palmer was named first-team all-county in 2011, while capturing all-league honors all four years, with three first-team selections. Following he senior year, Palmer was named Long Beach High School All-Sports MVP.
Off the court, Palmer is an extremely bright student, winning the Academic Excellence Award in 13 different subjects in high school, while making the Dean's List her first two semesters at ASU. Palmer is an accounting major, who aspires to run a non-profit organization in the future.
During her time at Williamsville, the Bullets won Regionals twice, won Sectionals in 2012, and claimed the county championship in 2011. Her senior season, Donnelly set school records for kills (367) and digs (447), while totaling a school-record 48 service aces as a sophomore.
Outside of school, Donnelly played for the Illini Elite Cardinal, who placed in the top 20 at AAU Nationals three-straight seasons (2010-12).
Donnelly looks forward to getting a jump on her college career in nearby Champaign. "I chose Illinois because of the proximity to home and the level of play," said Donnelly. "I decided to graduate early to get a head start on classes and to get comfortable in the atmosphere, and I am most excited about becoming good friends with my teammates."
In addition to volleyball, Donnelly played three seasons of softball, setting the school record for batting average in 2013, earning first-team all-conference, first-team all-area and second-team all-state as a junior and leading the Bullets to a second-place finish at 2A State Championships in 2012.
Off the field, Donnelly was a member of the National Honor Society. She plans to major in Kinesiology.
"I am really excited to be adding two players of this caliber this season," said Hambly. "Allison has already proven herself as a college and international player, both as a setter and a libero. We are looking forward to her competing at both positions for a starting role. She will bring experience and competitiveness to our program.
"Brandi is as tough as they come. She is a natural passer, has a great touch, and is a tremendous athlete. She could have played several sports in college, and I am excited she chose to play volleyball for the Illini. In general, they will bring toughness and grit to our program as well as depth and talent to a couple of positions."