Illini Seek to Continue Winning Ways against No. 13 Michigan State
ILLINOIS VS. THE SPARTANS
Illinois has generally played well against Michigan State, owning a 45-25 edge on the all-time series, including 21-9 overall at home. MSU got the win in East Lansing earlier this season, as the hot Spartans were coming off a signature sweep at Penn State and Ohio State the previous weekend en route to being the last Big Ten team to lose a conference match this season.
Michigan State began the Big Ten slate 6-0, but has since gone 1-5 over its next six matches, sitting just half a game ahead of Illinois at 7-5 in Big Ten play.
The Illini and Spartans split the season series in 2012, with each team erasing an 0-2 deficit on the road to steal the match away from the home team with a 5-set victory.
When Michigan State enters Huff Hall, there will be two setters on the court from the same family, Kristen and McKenna Kelsay. A senior for the Spartans, Kristen Kelsay is a four-year starter with 2,777 career assists, ranking sixth all-time in Michigan State history.
True freshman McKenna Kelsay has appeared in four matches this season for the Illini, primarily as a serving specialist, but made one appearance at setter-against her sister on Oct. 4 at Michigan State. McKenna recorded 14 assists over the final two sets, playing across the court from her older sister for the first time.
Redshirt junior Anna Dorn was named CoSIDA Academic All-District for the second-straight season, after registering a 3.96 GPA along with her solid play on the court. The fourth-year student-athlete is 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 nominations in 2009 and 2010. With the First Team All-District selection, Dorn is automatically in the running for 2013 Academic All-American, which will be announced on Dec. 12.
ILLINOIS STORMS BACK ON MICHIGAN-TWICE
On Oct. 5, Illinois won the first set, 25-18, but then found itself in a 1-2 hole in Ann Arbor, as Michigan dominated sets two and three, 25-15 and 25-10. The Illini did not give up, battling to tie the match with a 25-20 win in set four, then outlasted the No. 14 Wolverines, 15-13, in the fifth, to upset the ranked Michigan squad on its home court, 3-2.
Just over one month later, No. 17 Michigan came in to Huff Hall, and soon cruised to a 2-0 match lead with set scores of 25-18 and 25-19. The Illini refused to be swept on their home court, as they came storming out of the locker room with a new-found will to win. Illinois took the third set, 25-21, then dominated in the fourth, 25-15, and kept the momentum going in the fifth, winning 15-10 to defeat the Wolverines in five for the second time this season, both live on the Big Ten Network.
ILLINOIS HAS NATION'S TOUGHEST SCHEDULE
According to the NCAA's SOS rankings, Illinois has played the nation's most difficult schedule this season. The Illini have played an NCAA-leading 13 matches against teams in the RPI top 25. 17 of their 23 matches were against teams in the top 40, and just one of their opponents is outside of the top 100.
Based on this week's AVCA Coaches Poll, the Illini face all of the top three teams, five of the top 10 and 14 of the top 20, with 17 of their 21 opponents at least receiving votes this week.
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 were receiving votes at the time of competition 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. 9 Minnesota (Nov. 30).
The Illini have faced a school-record 16 ranked opponents thus far and hold a 7-9 record against teams ranked at the time of competition. Illinois' highest win was at No. 11 Iowa State on Sept. 8 (3-0):
#2 Texas - 9/14 - L, 2-3
According to this week's RPI, Illinois will face 12 of the top 25 teams, with its lowest opponent coming in at 107 (Iowa). The Illini dropped close matches to #1 Texas and #2 Penn State in five and lost to #4 Washington, 3-1.
The #23 Illini have gathered five wins over top-25 opponents, in #12 Kentucky (3-2), #13 Wisconsin (3-1), #21 Florida State (3-0) and #25 Michigan (twice, 3-2), four of which were on the road. Illinois has seven wins over top-40 teams, while 10 of Illinois' 12 losses came to teams in the top 30, including five in the top 10.
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.
CAN YOU DIG IT?
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 3,229 fans, more than any season in Illini history.
Illinois is 4-4 at home this season, with all four losses coming to teams in the top 15. The Illini are 66-17 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.
As of the start of the week, Illinois ranked fifth in the nation in average attendance (3,374). Five of the top 10 teams attendance-wise are Big Ten teams: Nebraska (1), Minnesota (3), 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 19 on the season, along with one from Morganne Criswell. Birks has tallied nine in 2013, including a streak of four straight from Oct. 18-27, and has 22 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 10 double-doubles (assists-digs) in 2013 and owning 12 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 six 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 153 times over its history. The Illini are 88-65 all-time on the small screen, including 34-39 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. Illinois did it again on Nov. 6, coming back from down 0-2 at home to knock off No. 17 Michigan in five. The Illini are now 12-17 on the Big Ten network and 2-3 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.
Military Appreciation and Girl Scout Night coincide on Saturday, Nov. 9. Following the match with Michigan State is the annual lock-in, where girls eighth grade and below can spend the night on campus and have breakfast with the team.
When Illinois takes on Purdue on Nov. 16, the night is full of promotions. It is Team Night, Camper Reunion and Kid's Club Night. Pre-registration is required for free admission.
The Illini close the season with Senior Night on Saturday, Nov. 30 against Minnesota.
Additionally, on home football weekends, volleyball participates in football ticket stub redemption, giving free admission to volleyball with your ticket stub. These matches are Sept. 28, Oct. 20, Nov. 16 and Nov. 30.