Volleyball Heads to Iowa for Big Ten Match Saturday
ILLINOIS VS. THE HAWKEYES
Illinois has had immense success against Iowa over the years, holding a 56-13 all-time record against the Hawkeyes. Illinois most recently faced off with Iowa on Sept. 27, 2013, when a record crowd of 7,061 gathered at State Farm Center to witness the Illini sweep the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten season opener.
The Illini enter this weekend's matchup riding a 14-match winning streak dating back over eight years, with Iowa's last victory coming in three sets on Oct. 14, 2005, at Huff Hall. Illinois has won 19 of the last 20 matches, holding a 9-match streak in Iowa City (last loss 10/11/02). Illinois has typically played well at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, going 23-7 all-time in Iowa City.
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 12 matches against teams in the RPI top 25. 17 of their 21 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 15 ranked opponents thus far and hold a 6-9 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. Illinois' most recent ranked matchup was at No. 11 Nebraska, where they fell 3-0.
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 10 of Illinois' 12 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 seventh in the nation among active players and the active Big Ten leader, ranking fifth 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 on the season, along with one from Morganne Criswell. Birks has tallied seven in 2013, including a streak of four straight from Oct. 18-27, and has 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.
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. That match was the jumping off point for four consecutive 10+ kill matches, tying her career high which she first recorded during nonconference play in 2012 before seeing reduced playing time for the remainder of the season.
ON THE SMALL SCREEN
As a program, Illinois has played on television 152 times over its history. The Illini are 87-65 all-time on the small screen, including 33-39 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 11-17 on the Big Ten network and 1-3 on television in 2013, having lost to Nebraska twice and No. 4 Penn State at home.
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.