Illini Close Out Regular Season at Home vs. Northwestern, Minnesota
Illinois owns the all-time series with Northwestern at 50-28 and has won eight of the last 10 matchups. However, the Wildcats pulled off a successful comeback on Oct. 23, 2013, to win the first meeting between the two teams this season. After Illinois dominated in the first two sets, Northwestern stormed back from the halftime break to take a 7-1 lead in the third and kept the momentum going all the way through the match to stun the Illini in five. Illinois is 26-9 all-time against the Wildcats at home, with its last loss at Huff coming back in 2008.
The Orange and Blue hold a small lead over the Golden Gophers in the all-time series, posting a 37-31-1 record against Minnesota, including going 17-16 at home. Minnesota is the only Big Ten team that the Illini have not yet faced this season, and the Golden Gophers swept the season series with the Illini in 2012. The last time Illinois took a set from UM was on Sept. 23, 2011, when the Illini won 3-2 in Minneapolis. Illinois' last home win was back on Oct. 16, 2009, when the Illini knocked off then-No. 6 Minnesota, 3-0, in front of over 7,000 fans at State Farm Center (named Assembly Hall at the time).
WIN STREAK SECURES SHOT AT POSTSEASON
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 the Illini 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. After falling just short in 2012 with a 14-16 record, the primary goal all season has been to get that 15th win, and now that that's been accomplished, the Illini can set the bar higher with the hope of hosting the First and Second Rounds.
During the winning streak, the Illini also claimed nine-straight set wins, from the third set vs. Michigan State to the first against OSU, which is 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 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, including seven vs. teams in the top 10. 22 of their 28 matches were against teams in the top 50, and their lowest opponent comes in at #119 (Indiana).
Based on this week's AVCA Coaches Poll, the Illini face five of the top 10 teams, 13 of the top 20 and a total of 15 in the top 25.
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 has been the site of many great competitions, as four of this week's top-10 teams have come to Champaign. The Illini opened the home season in style with visits by then-No. 2 Texas and No. 6 Washington, who have both moved even higher in the polls since then. Illinois hosted this week's No. 2 team, then-No. 4 Penn State, on Oct. 18, and No. 10 Nebraska (ranked 12th at the time) on Sept. 28.
The Illini have faced a school-record 19 ranked opponents thus far and hold a 9-10 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
When Illinois takes on No. 11 Minnesota on Saturday, it will mark its 20th ranked opponent of the year. Stanford, who played 20 ranked opponents in 2007, is the only team to face more than 20, most recently taking on 23 in 1996 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 matches that season, going 30-13. The following year, the Cardinal faced 27 ranked teams over just 31 matches.
According to this week's RPI, Illinois will play seven matches against top-10 teams, 20 against teams in the top 30, and its lowest opponent is just #119 (Indiana). The Illini dropped four matches to the top three teams, including a pair of five-setters against #1 Texas and #2 Penn State, while defeating #9 Kentucky, 3-2.
The #17 Illini have gathered eight wins over top-30 opponents, in #9 Kentucky (3-2), #14 Wisconsin (3-1), #19 Florida State (3-0), #22 Iowa State (3-0), #27 Michigan State (3-1), #28 Michigan (twice, 3-2), and #29 Purdue (3-0), five of which were on the road. In contrast, 11 of Illinois' 13 losses came to teams in the top 30, including six 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, and with 415 in 2013, Beltran clinched her fourth-straight season in the top 10. 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 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
MAYERS EARNS SECOND B1G FRESHMAN HONOR
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.
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 sat 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, another top-15 Huff crowd.
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 has played in front of five 3,000+ crowds at home and an additional five on the road, including 8,283 at Nebraska and 5,160 at Purdue.
^NCAA Tournament; *held at State Farm Center
With two regular-season home matches to go and the potential to host up to four NCAA matches, the Illini have already brought in the third-largest total fan attendance in school history, at 35,133 over 11 matches. They are averaging 3,194 fans per match, which is more than any season in Illini history. The attendance total trails only 2011 (42,068) and 1992, when Illinois hosted the NCAA Regional and set a then-NCAA record with 52,666 total fans. The Illini went 16-1 at home in both of those seasons.
Illinois is 7-4 at home this season, with all four losses coming to teams in the top 15. The Illini are 69-17 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.
Illinois ranks seventh in the nation in average attendance (3,194). Five of the top 10 teams attendance-wise are Big Ten teams: Nebraska (1), Minnesota (3), Wisconsin (5), Illinois (7), Penn State (9).
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.
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.
The Illini have been racking up double-doubles this season, as 6-rotation players Jocelynn Birks and Alexis Viliunas have combined for 23 on the season, along with one from Morganne Criswell. Birks has tallied 10 in 2013, including a streak of four straight from Oct. 18-27, and has 23 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 has proved herself a strong defensive setter, tabbing 13 double-doubles (assists-digs) in 2013 and owning 15 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 fourth setter since at least 1997 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 nine 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.
The Decatur, Ill., native hit .341 with 19 kills to help lead the Illini to a huge come-from-behind victory over No. 17 Michigan on Nov. 6. She then totaled 25 kills and hit .388 over a pair of 3-0 victories against Indiana and No. 18 Purdue to help the Illini capture their first perfect weekend in nearly two years.
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 available now by calling the Illinois Ticket Office at 1-866-ILLINI-1 or can be purchased online here. Single Session tickets will go on sale the week of the event after teams have qualified for the regional.
The Illini close the season with Senior Night on Saturday, Nov. 30 against Minnesota. As it will be a home football weekend, volleyball will participate in football ticket stub redemption, giving free admission to volleyball with your ticket stub from the Northwestern game.