Jocelynn Birks is one of those players looking to replace departing All-Americans Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward in the Illinois line-up in 2012.
April 13, 2012
Champaign, Ill. - Last year Illinois fans got a glimpse of just how good the fall version of the Illini team could be in an April exhibition match. Granted star freshman Liz McMahon wasn't yet on the roster. Still the team's five-set victory over eventual Chinese professional champion, Tianjin, was impressive. Illinois went on to make the Final Four and finish as the national runner-up. After its 2011 United States tour, Tianjin won its second straight Chinese Volleyball Association (CVA) title, downing Guangdong Hengda in the best-of-three series finals.
The Illini hit .360 on the night and rallied from a 19-15 deficit in the fourth set to send the match into the fifth and deciding frame. All-Americans Colleen Ward and Michelle Bartsch had 23 and 21 kills, respectively.
On Tuesday, April 17, fans will get another glimpse of the future with a match against Tianjin. Much is different this go-around. Bartsch and Ward are gone with the likes of freshmen outside hitters Jocelynn Birks, Ali Stark and Morganne Criswell playing those spots. McMahon has had a full spring training session and has played some left side in the competitions so far.
Tuesday's match against Tianjin at Huff Hall begins at 7 p.m. Cost is $1 with proceeds going to the Illini Networkers, the booster club for Illinois volleyball. The match is the final for Illinois during the spring season.
Last year Tianjin played its first match of its United States tour against the Illini. This year, however, Tianjin joins Illinois and several other Midwest schools at the Great Lakes Center Tournament on Saturday. Illinois meets UM-Milwaukee at 8 a.m., DePaul at 9:40 a.m., and Missouri State at 12:10 p.m. in abbreviated matches. Illinois will also play at 1:45 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. Opponents for the afternoon matches have not yet been determined. The Great Lakes Center is also the home of Sports Performance Volleyball Club, where many of the Illini players competed, and is located at 579 North Oakhurst Drive, Aurora.