Notes: Volleyball Opens Season at Home with Illini Classic
ILLINOIS VS. THE FIELD
The Illini open the 2014 regular season against Long Beach State, who received votes (ranked 38th) in the AVCA Preseason Poll. The Illini are just 1-4 all-time against the 49ers, with the sole win coming over then-No. 10 LBSU in five sets on Oct. 29, 1988. Illinois, ranked No. 5 at the time, took care of the 49ers one day after a 3-0 sweep of No. 9 Kentucky to win the Mid-America Classic in a season in which the Illini would reach their second-straight Final Four. No. 1 LBSU knocked Illinois out of the 1998 NCAA Regional en route to a national championship, and the pair would not face again for 15 years, when the Illini made a trip to Long Beach to open the 2013 season. Illinois took the first set on Aug. 30, 2013, before the 49ers bounced back to win three straight and hand the Illini their first loss of the year.
Illinois is 17-12 all-time against nearby Southern Illinois, including winning all four matches since 1985. The two Illinois teams last played each other on Sept. 12, 2007, when the Illini won 3-0 at home. The pair have faced just four times since 1983, with all for contests going in Illinois' favor, but Illinois and SIU were quite familiar from 1974-83, facing 25 times over the first 10 years of the Illinois varsity program. The series during that span was rather even, with Illinois owning a 13-12 advantage. The Illini faced the Salukis six times in the IAIAW State Championship, going 4-2 against them in the postseason.
The Orange and Blue hold a slight edge on the series with North Carolina, going 3-2 all-time against the Tar Heels. UNC topped the Illini in three sets on its home court on Sept. 20, 2013, but the Illini swept the Tar Heels in the two prior meetings on Sept. 8, 2006, and Aug. 29, 2008. The Illini had a landmark victory over UNC in the pair's first-ever meeting, when Illinois topped the Tar Heels 2-0 on Dec. 8, 1977, to claim its first-ever victory at the AIAW National Championship, held that season in Provo, Utah.
The Illini have had tremendous success on opening night, going 30-10 all-time in the first match of the season. Illinois has lost just one season opener since 1999, starting the new millennium with a 12-match winning streak from 2000-2011, before dropping the 2012 lid lifter at Dayton. Illinois swept No. 18 Florida State at the Long Beach State Mizuno Invitational to open 2013.
Illinois is even more successful in home openers, going 34-6 all-time in the first home match of the year. The Illini have not lost a home opener in two decades; after falling to No. 18 New Mexico on Sept. 9, 1994, the Orange and Blue have won their last 19 straight home openers. Since making the move to Huff Hall in 1990, Illinois is 23-1 in the first home match of the season.
THE ILLINI CLASSIC
The four-team Illini Classic began in 1984, featuring Missouri, Northern Illinois and Notre Dame. Mizzou earned the first-ever Illini Classic title, but the Illini rebounded to top New Mexico State in 1985 to win its first Classic title. Since its inception, the Illini have won 21 of 28 outright Illini Classic titles and split a two-match series with Iowa State in 2012. The 2013 Illini Classic was the first tournament in which the participants did not all play the same amount of matches and thus no champion was crowned.
The Illini Classic has seen some top competition over the years, none bigger than the Illini's 2004 upset of No. 1 USC. The Orange and Blue rallied from down 2-1 to claim the victory in front of over 3,000 fans to end the Women of Troy's then-NCAA record 52-match winning streak. The 2014 Classic should prove another exciting weekend, as it features nationally prominent North Carolina (No. 20) and Long Beach State (RV), along with in-state foe Southern Illinois.
On Friday night, the Fighting Illini will host Long Beach State in the ninth annual "Stuff Huff" match. The Illini are 7-1 since the promotion began in 2006, with the Illini taking their first-ever loss in the event last season to No. 6 Washington, who would end the 2013 season with a trip to the Final Four. The Huskies were the highest-ranked team to appear in the Stuff Huff event, and the match drew a crowd of 3,538 fans, the second-straight Stuff Huff crowd of over 3,000 fans.
This year will mark the third-straight year that the Illini will take on a team that appears in the AVCA poll, as Long Beach State is receiving votes in the Preseason Poll. Stuff Huff is renowned for its vast crowds, as the Illini have averaged 2,789 fans per game, with 3,000+ crowds in 2006, 2012 and 2013.
BIRKS, MCMAHON NAMED PRESEASON ALL-BIG TEN
Senior Liz McMahon and junior Jocelynn Birks were named 2014 Preseason All-Big Ten, as elected by the conference coaches. McMahon was the only Big Ten player to earn her third award, while Birks tabbed the honor for the second straight season.
Birks became the 15th Illini to be named AVCA All-America, earning a Third Team selection in 2013, to go along with AVCA All-Region honors and a unanimous All-Big Ten selection. Birks was one of six Big Ten players to appear on every preseason all-conference ballot and is the only returning player to have been a unanimous pick at the end of last fall. She is one of five 2013 All-Big Ten selections returning for 2014, all of whom received unanimous Preseason All-Big Ten honor.
The outside hitter totaled 500 kills in 2013 to post her second consecutive season with at least 500, a feat achieved just twice before by members of the Fighting Illini. She finished the season ranked fifth in the Big Ten and 40th in the nation in kills per set, and fourth in the Big Ten and 38th in the NCAA in points. Additionally, her 17 services aces in conference play tied for seventh in the league. Entering 2014, Birks ranks second in the NCAA among active players in career attacks per set and seventh in kills per set, ranking third among active underclassmen with a total of 1,010 career kills.
McMahon enters her senior season after receiving AVCA All-Region and All-Big Ten honorable mentions in 2013. The 6-6 opposite hitter tallied 391 kills and 100 blocks last fall, posting at least six kills in every match, including 24 double-digit kills performances. The Liberty Township, Ohio, native posted 23 kills, including the final four of the match, to propel Illinois to a tight victory over Arizona State in five sets. She hit her stride in last October, tallying 59 kills while hitting .343 over matches against Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
ILLINI TO FACE TOUGH SLATE ONCE AGAIN
Fresh off playing the most difficult schedule in the nation and perhaps one of the most challenging slates ever played in the history of NCAA volleyball in 2013, the Fighting Illini have their work cut out for them once again in 2014, with nine opponents ranked in the top 25 in the AVCA Preseason Poll, along with an additional four receiving votes.
The Illini open the season at home against Long Beach State, who is receiving votes, then host No. 20 North Carolina the following night. Illinois will get its first big test the following weekend in California, taking on No. 3 Stanford and RV UCLA in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, which also features Big Ten rival No. 1 Penn State.
Illinois returns to the Midwest for the Blue Raider Bash, featuring three teams in the top 100 in the final RPI of 2013, then take on No. 23 Creighton and RV Colorado before concluding nonconference play against South Dakota.
The Big Ten is stacked once again this season, as six of the top 12 teams (including Illinois) are conference members. Illinois must travel to No. 1 Penn State, play No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 7 Nebraska twice, and host No. 8 Purdue and No. 12 Minnesota. Additionally, the Illini head to No. 16 Michigan State and play two matches against RV Michigan.
According to the final RPI of 2013, Illinois will face nine top-25 teams, including five of the top 10, and has four additional opponents in the top 50. Nineteen of Illinois' 24 opponents can be found in the top 100, and only new conference foe Rutgers (#285) is outside the top 135.
Of the Illini's 24 opponents, 11 qualified for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. All but two of them advanced to the second round, with seven opponents qualifying for Regionals. The Illini will face five of the eight teams that advanced to the Regional Semifinals, including NCAA champion Penn State and NCAA runner-up Wisconsin.
Illinois' preconference tournament opponents hail from seven different conferences, including four from the powerhouse Pac-12. The Illini will face two teams from the ACC, along with squads from the Big East, Big West, Conference-USA, MVC and Summit League.
ILLINI REACH 14TH NCAA REGIONAL IN 2013
Illinois earned a bid to the 2013 NCAA Tournament for the 21st time in program history, and with a pair of wins in the first two rounds, the Fighting Illini advanced to the NCAA Regionals for the 14th time. The Illini earned a national seed, allowing them the opportunity to host the opening rounds for the 15th time, and with the NCAA having pre-selected Illinois as one of four Regional sites, the Illini had the rare opportunity to play all three of their NCAA Tournament matches at home.
2013 marked the first time that the Illini have been pre-selected to host the Regional, but the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight were held at Huff Hall in 1992 and at Kenney Gym in 1987 and 1988. The two regionals at Kenney led to Illinois' back-to-back Final Four appearances, while the Illini set a then-NCAA record for attendance in 1992.
Illinois is 34-21 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including an impressive 26-4 at home. The Illini are 6-8 all-time in the Regional Semifinals (Sweet 16), 3-3 in the Regional Finals (Elite Eight), and 9-11 overall in Regional matches. Illinois' three wins in Regional Finals came in 1987 (home), 1988 (home) and 2011 (Gainesville, Fla.), advancing to the title match for the first time in 2011.
THREE ILLINI EARN 2013 POSTSEASON HONORS
Jocelynn Birks became the 15th Illini to be named AVCA All-America, earning a Third Team selection, while graduating senior Jennifer Beltran picked up an AVCA All-America Honorable Mention. The pair both earned AVCA All-Northeast Region selections, and Liz McMahon garnered an honorable mention. Additionally, Birks was a unanimous All-Big Ten selection, and McMahon earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention.
LATE WIN STREAK SECURES POSTSEASON BID
After struggling to put together back-to-back wins throughout the majority of the season, the Fighting Illini hit their stride in the second half of Big Ten play, winning six straight matches, including three over ranked opponents, to start November.
Illinois swept at Iowa on Nov. 2, then found itself in an 0-2 hole at home against No. 17 Michigan. Feeling the pressure of their NCAA Tournament hopes slipping away, the Illini burst out of intermission a new team, coming all the way back to beat the Wolverines, 3-2. The Orange and Blue kept it up the following Saturday with a 3-1 upset of No. 13 Michigan State for their first undefeated week of the season.
Illinois upped the ante the following weekend by going a perfect 6-0 in sets to capture a pair of sweeps over Indiana and No. 18 Purdue. The weekend marked the first time the Illini posted back-to-back 3-0 wins since the 2011 NCAA First and Second Rounds when they swept Central Michigan and Marquette.
The Orange and Blue made it six straight when they took down Ohio State, 3-1, at St. John Arena, to capture their 15th win of the season and clinch a season record of at least .500-a requirement for earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
During the winning streak, the Illini claimed nine-straight set wins from the third set vs. Michigan State to the first against OSU, which was the longest set winning streak since early 2010, when the Illini won 17 consecutive sets across six matches, including a historic sweep at No. 2 Texas.
ILLINOIS FACED NCAA'S TOUGHEST SCHEDULE IN 2013
According to the NCAA's SOS rankings, Illinois played the nation's most difficult schedule of the season in 2013 and quite possibly one of the hardest any team has ever played. The Illini played an NCAA-leading 19 matches against teams in the RPI top 25, including eight vs. teams in the top 10. Twenty-four of their 33 matches were against teams in the top 50. Illinois' lowest nonconference opponent was #97 Morehead State, with just two Big Ten teams sitting outside the top 100 (#119 Iowa, #122 Indiana).
Based on the final AVCA Coaches Poll, the Illini faced all of the top four teams, eight of the top 10 and a total of 14 in the top 25. Of their 33 matches, 19 were played against teams that were ranked in the final poll.
Of Illinois' 21 regular-season opponents, 19 appeared in at least one poll, including all nine of the Illini's non-conference competition. Only Iowa and Indiana were left out of every poll, while Long Beach State and Northwestern were receiving votes at the time of competition but never made it into the top 25.
Champaign was the site of many great competitions, as seven of the final top-10 teams came to town. The Illini opened the home season in style with visits by then-No. 2 Texas and No. 6 Washington, who both advanced to the Final Four. Illinois hosted eventual national champion then-No. 4 Penn State on Oct. 18, No. 7 Nebraska (ranked 12th at the time) on Sept. 28, No. 8 Purdue twice (ranked 18 and 20 during the matches) and No. 10 Minnesota (then-No. 11) on Nov. 30. Additionally, NCAA runner-up Wisconsin came to State Farm Center for the Regional, but did not face Illinois in the Tournament.
The Illini faced a school-record 22 ranked opponents, capturing 10 wins against teams ranked at the time of competition, which is second only to the 2011 season, when the Illini went 11-4. Illinois' highest win was at No. 11 Iowa State on Sept. 8 (3-0):
When Illinois took on No. 19 Purdue on Dec. 13, it marked the 22nd ranked opponent on Illinois' schedule. That is the most ranked opponents for an NCAA team since 1996, when Stanford faced 23 en route to its third national title in five years. The Cardinal faced 30 ranked teams in 1982, the first year of the AVCA poll, which is the unofficial NCAA record. Stanford played 43 total matches that season, going 30-13. The following year, the Cardinal faced 27 ranked teams over just 31 matches.
According to the final RPI, Illinois played eight matches against top-10 teams, 19 vs. top 25, 24 against teams in the top 50, and its lowest opponent was just #122 (Indiana). The Illini dropped four matches to the top three teams, including a pair of five-setters against #1 Penn State and #2 Texas, while defeating #9 Wisconsin 3-1, #11 Marquette 3-1 and #13 Kentucky 3-2.
The #16 Illini gathered 11 wins over top-50 opponents, including #9 Wisconsin (3-1), #11 Marquette (3-1), #13 Kentucky (3-2), #17 Florida State (3-0), #21 Purdue (3-0) and #22 Michigan State (3-1). Illinois won six matches against top-25 competition, while taking just two losses to teams outside of the top-25. Of Illinois' 11 top-50 wins, six came on the road, including a 3-1 victory at NCAA Runner-Up Wisconsin on Oct. 23.
Sixteen of Illinois' 21 regular-season opponents earned bids to the 2013 NCAA Tournament, including eight of the Illini's nine nonconference foes. Long Beach State was the only nonconference team on the Illini's schedule to miss the 2013 postseason, while just four Big Ten members were left out. Of the 16 national seeds, only six did not face Illinois last fall. Illinois hosted all of the top three seeds: #1 Texas, #2 Penn State and #3 Washington.
Illinois faced the majority of the teams who made a run in the NCAA Tournament, including being the only team in the nation to take on all four Final Four qualifiers. The Illini took National Champion Penn State to five sets at home and dropped a four-setter to the Nittany Lions in State College. Illinois defeated NCAA Runner-Up Wisconsin, 3-1, on the road, and took sets from Texas (3-2) and Washington (3-1), who each reached the National Semifinals. Additionally, the Illini took on six of the eight Regional Final qualifiers, including Purdue and Nebraska, along with 10 of the 15 teams (not including Illinois) that reached the Regional Semifinals: San Diego, Florida State, Minnesota, Michigan State.
Of the nine teams Illinois faced in preseason tournaments, four won their respective conferences. Illinois took on Texas (Big 12), San Diego (West Coast) and Washington (Pac-12), along with the top three finishers in the ACC; Duke, Florida State and UNC, respectively. Illinois' first and second round opponents were also conference champions, in Morehead State (OVC) and Marquette (BIG EAST).
BIG TEN MAKES BIG WAVES IN 2013
The Big Ten established itself as the top conference in the nation in countless ways last fall, capped off by an all-Big Ten National Championship match, where Penn State defeated Wisconsin, 3-1, to capture its NCAA-record-tying sixth national title.
The Big Ten sent eight squads to the NCAA Tournament, which was second to the Pac-12 (9) and tied with the SEC, yet Big Ten teams were by far the most successful, as seven of those eight advanced to the Regionals, while just three of the nine Pac-12 teams and none of the eight SEC squads survived the first two rounds. The seven conference teams in the Sweet 16 is an NCAA Tournament record.
Big Ten squads compiled a 23-7 record in the NCAA Tournament, eclipsing the conference's previous record of 19 wins set in 2010 and 2012.
Nine Big Ten teams appeared in the AVCA poll last season, with eight breaking into the top 25 and five teams maintaining a spot in every poll. Seven Big Ten teams were ranked in the final poll: No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 7 Nebraska, No. 8 Purdue, No. 10 Minnesota, No. 14 Michigan State, and No. 16 Illinois, while Michigan received votes, dropping out of the top 25 for the first time all year.
Thirteen Big Ten volleyball players were selected as AVCA All-Americans, the most of any conference, with four earning first-team selections. An additional 13 picked up honorable mentions. Additionally, two conference players earned Capital One Academic All-America honors, with Penn State's Katie Slay being named Academic All-America of the Year, while PSU's Ariel Scott was selected as the 2013 Senior CLASS Award winner and Nittany Lion leader Russ Rose earned AVCA National Coach of the Year.
Statistically speaking, the Big Ten boasted five players in the top 10 nationally in various categories. PSU's Micha Hancock finished second in the nation in aces per set and teammate Katie Slay ranked third in blocks per set. OSU's Kaitlyn Leary finished fourth in kills per set and 10th in points per set, while MSU's Lauren Wicinski came in ninth nationally in points per set.
ILLINI SET NEW AVERAGE ATTENDANCE RECORD IN 2013
Over 16 home matches in 2013, the Illini brought in the second-largest total fan attendance in school history, with 49,871, and averaged the largest crowd size ever, bringing in 3,117 fans per match. The 2013 Illini broke the record set in 1992, when Illinois last hosted the NCAA Regional and set a then-NCAA record with 52,666 total fans, averaging 3,098.
Illinois played in front of seven 3,000+ crowds at home and an additional five on the road, including 8,283 at Nebraska and 5,160 at Purdue.
Illinois hosted Iowa on Sept. 27 at State Farm Center in the Big Ten season opener. The event drew a crowd of 7,061, the second-largest crowd in school history and the largest crowd ever for a volleyball-only event (the record, set in 2009 at 7,632, was held in conjunction with basketball's Illini Madness promotion).
The following evening, 3,476 fans came to watch Illinois take on No. 12 Nebraska, a top-15 Huff crowd.
The Illini drew a total of 3,538 fans at the "Stuff Huff" match vs. No. 6 Washington on Sept. 13. That mark sat just behind the 2012 "Stuff Huff" match in 11th all-time at Huff Hall.
On Nov. 16, the Illini topped Stuff Huff, when 3,632 members of the Orange and Blue packed Huff Hall to watch the Illini defeat No. 18 Purdue in straight sets, once again marking the 11th-largest crowd at Huff Hall.
Illinois hosted the NCAA Regional at State Farm Center on Dec. 13-14, and despite a blizzard outside, the Illini attracted a crowd of 4,631 to the Regional Semifinal against No. 19 Purdue, which included roughly 1,000 Illinois students.
^NCAA Tournament; *held at State Farm Center
Illinois was 10-6 at home on the season, with all six losses coming to teams in the top 20. The Illini are 72-19 in front of a home crowd since the start of 2008. Seventeen of the 19 losses came to teams in the top 25, including three to No. 1 Penn State.
Illinois finished the season ranked seventh in the nation in total attendance and ninth in average crowd size. Five of the top-10 teams in both categories are members of the Big Ten: Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State.
Redshirt junior Anna Dorn was named CoSIDA Academic All-District in 2013 for the second-straight year, after registering a 3.96 GPA along with her solid play on the court. The fourth-year Kinesiology major was one of just six players in District 5 to be named to the First Team, joining fellow-Big Ten members Kristen Kelsay (MSU) and Faye Adelaja (Purdue). With her second All-District honor, Dorn joins an elite group of just three other Illini who have tabbed multiple First-Team honors, a feat most recently met by Director of Operations Johannah Bangert, who is the sole Illini to have three All-District honors, including First-Team awards in 2009 and 2010.
Seven Fighting Illini earned Academic All-Big Ten honors, awarded to those in at least their second academic year who have maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. Illinois' honorees: Courtney Abrahamovich, Julia Conard, Morganne Criswell, Anna Dorn, Liz McMahon, Kathryn Polkoff, Ali Stark. Dorn, McMahon and Stark were also named Big Ten Distinguished Scholars.
MAYERS EARNS PAIR OF BIG TEN FRESHMAN HONORS
Redshirt freshman Maddie Mayers burst onto the scene in her Illini debut at the Long Beach State Mizuno Invitational, hitting .345 with 29 kills and 20 blocks over three matches to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Sept. 2. The middle blocker hit .625 with 11 kills in her first career match to lead the Illini past No. 18 Florida State in straight sets, then put up seven blocks against LBSU in the night cap. But it didn't stop there; in the weekend finale, Mayers registered 13 kills and nine blocks to power Illinois past No. 17 Kentucky, 3-2. She was just one block shy of registering the first kills-blocks double-double since Student Assistant Erin Johnson recorded 11 kills and 10 blocks at Minnesota on Sept. 23, 2011.
Mayers tabbed the weekly honor for a second time on Nov. 18, after leading the Illini to a 3-0 victory over No. 18 Purdue. The Fort Wayne, Ind., native hit .700 with seven kills and five blocks to help the Illini to their first sweep of the Boilermakers since 2009.
The Illini racked up double-doubles in 2013, as 6-rotation players Jocelynn Birks and Alexis Viliunas combined for 25 on the season, along with one from Morganne Criswell. Birks tallied 11 in 2013, including a streak of four straight from Oct. 18-27, and has 24 in her career, all with 10+ kills and digs. She recorded her first-ever 20-20 match on Oct. 5, 2012, against No. 1 Penn State, notching 23 kills and 20 digs.
Viliunas proved herself a strong defensive setter, tabbing 14 double-doubles (assists-digs) in 2013 and owning 16 for her career. On Oct. 27, 2013, Viliunas put on a spectacular defensive display at No. 16 Wisconsin, putting up a career-high 20 digs against the Badgers to record the first assists-digs 20-20 since 2010. She is just the sixth setter since 1990 to register a 20-20, joining Merrill Mullis (1991 at WIS), Carolien Dikhoff (1995 vs. OSU & PSU), Erin Virtue (2003 vs. Akron), Lizzie Bazzetta (2005 & 2006, both vs. Iowa) and Hillary Haen (2010 vs. Michigan) on the list of talented setters.
Criswell registered a double-double in her first start of the season at Duke, notching 14 kills and 11 digs. Additionally, Ali Stark and Allison Palmer both have double-doubles in their careers, as Stark had three kills-digs double-doubles in 2012, and Palmer had 10 assists-digs double-doubles as a setter at Arizona State in 2012.
HAMBLY CAPTURES 100TH CAREER VICTORY
Head Coach Kevin Hambly marked down his 100th career victory on Sept. 13, 2013, with a five-set win over Arizona State. Hambly posted 82 wins through his first three seasons, but with such a challenging schedule in 2012, he had to wait another full season before finally crossing the three-digit plateau. Despite the implication that it took him a while, he is actually one of the fastest head coaches to ever reach the 100 mark, doing so in just 138 matches (.724).
Hambly is Illinois' third head coach to reach this milestone. Mike Hebert also captured his 100th win during his fifth season back on Oct. 30, 1987, in his 133rd match at Illinois. Don Hardin reached the milestone on Nov. 14, 2001, in match #175 towards the end of his sixth season.