Illini to Open 2014 with Intrasquad Exhibition Saturday
Aug. 20, 2014
Champaign, Ill. - Six days prior to the Illini's season opener, the Illini Networkers will host an exhibition match on Saturday, Aug. 23, beginning at 7 p.m. The Orange and Blue will showcase their depth by playing a four-set intrasquad scrimmage, and in honor of the annual alumni celebration, a large group of former Illini will be recognized prior to the match. The exhibition will allow fans to get a first look at the 2014 Fighting Illini and will serve as the first opportunity to experience all of this past summer's renovations to Huff Hall.
"You'll get to see the improvements the team's made," said head coach Kevin Hambly. "The people who came to watch us in the spring saw things that they were excited about, and they can see how we've progressed since then. I think mostly just to get a feel for what the team's going to be like. It's actually going to be really competitive, we'll have two really competitive sides of the net."
The Illini return every starter from 2013 except for standout libero Jennifer Beltran '14, including AVCA Third-Team All-American Jocelynn Birks and AVCA All-Region Honorable Mention Liz McMahon, who were both named Preseason All-Big Ten. Senior Morganne Criswell and junior Ali Stark also return to the rotation on the outside, along with sophomores Michelle Strizak and Katie Roustio.
With the addition of setter Allison Palmer to the Illini roster, a January transfer from Arizona State, Hambly has opted to shift to a 6-2 setter rotation. Returning starter Alexis Viliunas and sophomore McKenna Kelsay will compete with Palmer for the two starting spots in the lineup.
"I think people have a lot of questions about what the 6-2 looks like," said Hambly, "and how some of the younger players are doing that they haven't seen before, like McKenna Kelsay and Allison Palmer. So they'll get a chance to see all those guys play."
The Illini have three defensive specialists on the roster for 2014 who will all fight for the chance to succeed Beltran at libero in junior Julia Conard, sophomore Danielle Davis and freshman Brandi Donnelly, who began training with the team in January.
With so many lineup spots up for grabs, Saturday's intrasquad exhibition is sure to be a hard-fought battle for a chance to earn a start on opening night.
Sixteen alumni are expected to be in attendance on Saturday, including three-time All-Big Ten selection Disa (Johnson) Garner (1984-87), All-Americans and current Illini staff members Johannah Bangert (2007-10) and Hillary Haen (2007-10), and 1996 First-Team All-Big Ten selection Kelly (Scherr) McClure (1993-96). Recent alumni Courtney Abrahamovich (2011-14), Hannah Deterding (2010-11), Rachel Feldman (2008-11), Kristine Anderson Rousseau (2006-08) and Amelia (Coleman) Brummund (2006) plan to attend, along with some of the Illini's earlier players, including Kelly (See) Finet (1981-84), Mary (Coleman) Hambly (1995-98), Megan (Stettin) Isenberg (1992-95), Laura (Haselhorst) Mueller (1995-98), Rena Zenarosa (1992-94) and Melissa Vandrey (2000-03), as well as former manager Scott Randall (1994-98).
"I think it's great of course as a coaching staff to see (all the alumni), but I think it's even better for our players to get around them and understand the legacy of what was ahead of them and the sense of history that's here at Illinois," said Hambly. "There's a great tradition here in volleyball; some great players have gone through and great people. To be a part of that, what it means, I think it's more exciting for me that way. For our players, it's really exciting to see them interact."
The exhibition is a ticketed event, however unlike during the regular season, all seating is general admission. Season ticket packages do include a ticket to the match, but reserved ticket holders are not guaranteed their regular seat. Admission is $5 to the general public, $2 for youth, and free for Illinois students with their I-Card. To purchase an advance ticket, call 1-866-ILLINI-1 or visit the Illinois Ticket Office located at 2141 S. Neil St., in Champaign. Tickets will also be available for purchase at the ticket mobile located outside of Huff Hall beginning one hour prior to the match.