Illini to Face No. 11 Nebraska Live on BTN Wednesday
ILLINOIS VS. THE HUSKERS
Illinois has struggled historically against Nebraska, going just 5-18-1 all-time against the Huskers, with just one win in nine appearances in Lincoln. The Illini are 0-4 all-time at the Devaney Center, most recently dropping a 5-setter on Sept. 11, 2010. Nebraska has won all three matchups since joining the Big Ten in 2011 and holds a 7-match winning streak dating back to 1993.
Illinois has a storied history with Nebraska, meeting the Huskers five times in the NCAA Tournament between 1986 and 1992, making Nebraska the team it has faced most often in postseason play. The No. 12 Illini lost 3-0 at No. 7 Nebraska in the 1986 Regional Final, then avenged that loss the following season with a 3-0 win over No. 8 Nebraska at home in the Regional Final to advance to their first-ever Final Four. No. 5 Nebraska kept Illinois from its third-straight Final Four berth in 1989, sweeping the seventh-ranked Illini in Lincoln in the 1989 Regional Final. Illinois lost once again in Lincoln in the 1991 Mideast First Round, then exacted revenge in front of a sold out crowd at Huff Hall on Dec. 10, 1992, with a 3-0 sweep in the Regional Semifinal.
1986 Regional Final (Lincoln) - NEB, 3-0
ON THE SMALL SCREEN
As a program, Illinois has played on television 151 times over its history. The Illini are 87-64 all-time on the small screen, including 33-38 on national TV. On Oct. 5, Illinois pulled out an exciting comeback over No. 14 Michigan to defeat the Wolverines in front of a national TV audience on the Big Ten Network. The win snapped a six-match BTN losing streak and marked the Illini's first win on BTN since 2011. The Illini are now 11-16 on the Big Ten network and 1-2 on television in 2013, having lost to No. 12 Nebraska and No. 4 Penn State at home.
ILLINOIS HAS NATION'S TOUGHEST SCHEDULE
According to the NCAA RPI, Illinois has played the nation's most difficult schedule so far this season. The Illini have faced an NCAA-leading 11 teams in the RPI top 25. 16 of their 20 matches were against teams in the top 50, and not one of their opponents is outside of the top 100. Illinois' opponents Texas (3), Penn State (5), Kentucky (9) and Wisconsin (10) are also in the SOS top 10.
Based on this week's AVCA Coaches Poll, the Illini face all of the top three teams, five of the top 10, 14 of the top 20, and have 24 (of 30) matches against teams that are receiving votes.
Of Illinois' 21 opponents, 19 have appeared in at least one poll, including all nine of the Illini's non-conference competition. Only Iowa and Indiana have been left out of every poll, while Long Beach State and Northwestern have received votes but have not made it into the top 25.
Huff Hall will be the site of many great competitions, as four top-10 teams are slated come to Champaign. The Illini opened the home season in style with visits by then-No. 2 Texas and No. 6 Washington, who are now ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively. Illinois hosted then-No. 4 Penn State on Oct. 18, and is awaiting a visit by No. 10 Minnesota (Nov. 30).
The Illini have faced 14 ranked opponents thus far and hold a 6-8 record against them. Illinois defeated then-No. 18 Florida State and then-No. 17 Kentucky opening weekend. Illinois split with a pair of ranked foes the following weekend in Ames, falling to No. 14 San Diego, 3-1, but sweeping No. 11 Iowa State. The Orange and Blue defeated Arizona State, which was receiving votes and moved to No. 18 in the following poll, in their home opener, then dropped matches to No. 6 Washington and No. 2 Texas. Illinois fell 3-0 at No. 15 North Carolina on Sept. 20 and at home to No. 12 Nebraska on Sept. 28. Illinois then went 1-1 on the road, falling at No. 9 Michigan State (3-0) but defeating No. 14 Michigan, 3-2. Illinois dropped a heartbreaker at No. 20 Purdue (3-1) the following weekend, and was stunned again by No. 4 Penn State who came back to win 3-2 on Oct. 18. The Illini then took down No. 17 Ohio State on Oct. 20 and upset No. 16 Wisconsin on the road on Oct. 27, both in four sets.
According to this week's RPI, Illinois will face 12 of the top 25 teams, with its lowest opponent coming in at 96 (LBSU). The Illini dropped close matches to #1 Texas and #2 Penn State in five and lost to #4 Washington, 3-1.
The #22 Illini have gathered three wins over top-25 opponents, in #9 Wisconsin (3-1), #13 Kentucky (3-2) and #25 Michigan (3-2), all of which were on the road. Illinois has six wins over top-40 teams, while nine of Illinois' 11 losses came to teams in the top 30.
15 of Illinois' 21 opponents participated in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, including three of the Final Four teams (Texas, Penn State, Michigan).
The Fighting Illini faced three 2012 conference champions in their non-conference slate: Texas (Big 12), Florida State (ACC) and San Diego (West Coast), and went 1-2.
BELTRAN BREAKS CAREER DIGS RECORD
In her first two seasons at Illinois, Jennifer Beltran recorded the top two single-season digs performances in school history. She followed with a 500-dig season in 2012, good for sixth all time. Beltran entered her final season in second place all-time with 1,694 career digs, and on Oct. 12, the libero tallied 11 digs at Indiana to pass Ashley Edinger '09 and become Illinois' all-time career digs leader.
On Oct. 27, Beltran recorded 21 digs to help lead the Illini past No. 16 Wisconsin in a key road matchup, and in doing so, became the first Illini ever to reach 2,000 career digs.
Additionally, Beltran is 10th in the nation among active players and the active Big Ten leader, ranking sixth all time in conference history. With 500 digs in 2013, a figure she's met in each of her first three seasons, Beltran can finish second all time in the Big Ten record books.
*First two seasons at Creighton
ILLINI TOP THE ATTENDANCE CHARTS
The Illini drew a total of 3,538 fans at the "Stuff Huff" match vs. No. 6 Washington on Sept. 13. That mark sits just behind the 2012 "Stuff Huff" match in 11th all-time at Huff Hall.
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, the 14th-largest crowd in Huff Hall history.
^NCAA Tournament; *held at State Farm Center
The Illini drew a total of 33,713 fans over 12 home matches in 2012, for an average of 2,809 per match, which is second only to the 1992 season, when the Illini set a then-NCAA record for season attendance. The Orange and Blue hosted the NCAA Regional that season, which featured three of the all-time top-five crowds at Huff.
So far in 2013, Illinois has averaged 3,374 fans, which is nearly 300 higher than its best season ever.
Illinois is 3-4 at home this season, with all four losses coming to teams in the top 15. The Illini are 65-17 in front of a home crowd since the start of 2008. 15 of the 17 losses came to teams in the top 25, including three to No. 1 Penn State.
Thus far in 2013, Illinois ranks fifth in the nation in average attendance (3,374). Five of the top 10 teams attendance-wise are Big Ten teams: Nebraska (1), Minnesota (4), Illinois (5), Wisconsin (6), Michigan State (9).
The Illini have been racking up double-doubles this season, as 6-rotation players Jocelynn Birks and Alexis Viliunas have combined for 16 through the first 20 matches of the year. Birks enters the week riding a four-match double-double streak, tallying seven in 2013 and 13 in the 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 has proved herself a strong defensive setter, tabbing nine double-doubles (assists-digs) in 2013 and owning 11 for her career. On Oct. 27, 2013, Viliunas put on a spectacular defensive display at No. 16 Wisconsin, tabbing a career-high 20 digs against the Badgers to record the first assists-digs 20-20 since 2010. She is just the fourth setter since 2000 to register a 20-20, joining Erin Virtue (2003 vs. Akron), Lizzie Bazzetta (2005 & 2006, both vs. Iowa) and Hillary Haen (2010 vs. Michigan) on the list of talented setters.
Morganne Criswell registered a double-double in her first start of the season at Duke, notching 14 kills and 11 digs. Additionally, Ali Stark and Jennifer Beltran both have recorded double-doubles in their careers, as Stark had three kills-digs double-doubles in 2012 and Beltran recorded 11 assists and 18 digs against Cincinnati on Sept. 15, 2012.
Junior outside hitter Morganne Criswell earned her way into the starting lineup on Sept. 21 after breathing life into a struggling a Illini offense the previous night at North Carolina. In her first start, Criswell led the team with 14 kills against Duke, her personal best at the time, and registered her first career double-double with 11 digs.
Criswell earned her stay in the starting rotation as the Illini headed into Big Ten play, where she has gone on to record five additional double-digit kill matches, including smashing 21 kills against No. 4 Penn State on Oct. 18. Her current streak of four consecutive 10+ kill matches ties her career high, as she did so during nonconference play in 2012 before seeing reduced playing time for the remainder of the season.
ILLINOIS TO HOST 2013 NCAA REGIONAL
The NCAA has selected Illinois to be one of four Regional hosts for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Illinois will host three matches on Dec. 13-14 at State Farm Center. All-session tickets are now available by calling the Illinois Ticket Office at 1-866-ILLINI-1. Single Session tickets will go on sale the week of the event after teams have qualified for the regional.