#13 Illinois Set to Host NCAA First and Second Rounds
ILLINOIS VS. THE FIELD
Illinois' first round matchup features an unfamiliar foe, as the Illini will take on Morehead State for the first time in program history. The Orange and Blue are 28-6 all-time against current members of the Ohio Valley Conference, with the majority of those matches coming against in-state foe Eastern Illinois (19-4). The last time Illinois faced an OVC member was in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, when the Illini took down Austin Peay in three consecutive 25-19 sets.
Should the Illini advance to the second round, they will have the chance to face a team that they played in the last two seasons, in either Marquette or Louisville. Illinois is 3-0 all-time against Marquette, all of which were 3-0 sweeps. Illinois defeated the Golden Eagles in the last NCAA Tournament match at Huff Hall on Dec. 3, 2011, earning a 3-0 sweep in the Second Round on the way to the NCAA title match.
Louisville is the member of the tournament field that the Illini have seen the most often, as the Orange and Blue hold a 9-4 all-time record against the Cardinals. Illinois faced Louisville in each of the past four seasons, going 3-1 but dropping the most recent contest, 3-2, in the 2012 Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge in Cincinnati. Like Marquette, Louisville and Illinois have seen each other in the NCAA Tournament before, as the Illini defeated the Cardinals at home in the 2003 Second Round, but fell in the first round the following year.
ILLINI PUNCH TICKET TO 21ST NCAA TOURNAMENT
When Illinois takes the court on Friday, the Illini will participate in the NCAA Tournament for the 21st time in program history. The Illini earned a national seed, allowing them the opportunity to host the opening round for the 15th time, and with the NCAA having pre-selected Illinois as one of four Regional sites, the Illini will have the chance to play up to four matches in Champaign. Should the Illini continue to win, they would not have to leave town until the Final Four, which will be held at Key Arena in Seattle.
Illinois is 32-20 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including an impressive 24-3 at home. The Illini's last home postseason loss was back in 2001, when Arizona knocked off the Illini, 3-1, in the second round. The Illini have reached the Final Four three times, playing in the title match in 2011.
This is 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. Until the final week of the season, which featured a pair of home matches during Thanksgiving break, the Illini were holding the best average attendance in school history. With the potential to host four NCAA matches, the Illini have a strong chance of finishing 2013 with the best attendance numbers in school history, currently averaging 3,037 per match.
BIRKS, MCMAHON EARN ALL-BIG TEN HONORS
Sophomore Jocelynn Birks earned a unanimous All-Big Ten selection, while junior Liz McMahon garnered All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. The pair have combined for 807 kills and 160 blocks on the season, adding 35 service aces, while six-rotation OH Birks tabbed 249 digs. Birks finished the regular season ranked fifth in the conference and in the top 45 in the nation in both kills and points per set, placing fourth in the Big Ten in both categories during conference play. Additionally, her 17 service aces in Big Ten matches ties for seventh in the conference.
Both players were named to the Preseason All-Big Ten team, and earned conference honors last season, as McMahon went 2012 All-Big Ten while Birks earned an honorable mention and a spot on the All-Freshman team. McMahon was named to the All-Freshman team in 2011.
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 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 had been to get that 15th win; once that was accomplished, they set the bar higher, hoping to earn a national seed-also a success.
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 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 14 matches against teams in the RPI top 25, including seven vs. teams in the top 10. 23 of their 30 matches were against teams in the top 50. Illinois' lowest nonconference opponent was #80 Long Beach State, with just two Big Ten teams sitting outside the top 100 (#124 Iowa, #130 Indiana).
• Based on this week's AVCA Coaches Poll, the Illini faced six of the top 10 teams, 13 of the top 20 and a total of 14 in the top 25. Potential second round opponent Marquette is ranked No. 22.
• Of Illinois' 21 regular-season opponents, 19 have 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.
• Huff Hall has been the site of many great competitions, as five 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, No. 9 Nebraska (ranked 12th at the time) on Sept. 28, and No. 10 Minnesota (then-No. 11) on Nov. 30. The Illini look to host more top competition on Dec. 13-14, when the NCAA Regional comes to State Farm Center.
• The Illini have faced a school-record 20 ranked opponents thus far and hold a 9-11 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 took on No. 11 Minnesota on Nov. 30, it marked its 20th ranked opponent of the year. Stanford is the only team that has ever faced 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 total 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 has played seven matches against top-10 teams, 23 against teams in the top 50, and its lowest opponent is just #130 (Indiana). The Illini dropped three matches to the top three teams, including a pair of five-setters against #1 Texas and #2 Penn State, while defeating #10 Kentucky, 3-2. Should Illinois face Marquette on Saturday, the Illini would add yet another top-10 team to the list, as the Golden Eagles are #8.
• The #20 Illini have gathered 11 wins over top-50 opponents, including #10 Kentucky (3-2), #15 Wisconsin (3-1), #19 Florida State (3-0), #23 Iowa State (3-0), #27 Purdue (3-0), and #28 Michigan State (3-1), six of which were on the road. In contrast, 12 of Illinois' 14 losses came to teams in the top 30, including nine in the top 15.
• 16 of Illinois' 21 opponents earned bids to the 2013 NCAA Tournament, including eight of the Illini's nine nonconference foes. Long Beach State is 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 this fall. Illinois hosted all of the top three seeds, in #1 Texas, #2 Penn State and #3 Washington, and expects to see #4 Missouri and #5 Florida in the Champaign Regional on Dec. 13-14.
• 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.
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 485 so far 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.
Beltran is eighth in the nation among active players and ranks fourth all time in conference history. She needs just 15 more digs in 2013 to move into second all time in the Big Ten record books.
*First two seasons at Creighton
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.
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
• Over 13 regular-season matches, the Illini have already brought in the third-largest total fan attendance in school history, with 39,485. Until the final week of the regular season, when Illinois hosted a pair of matches over Thanksgiving break, the 2013 Illini were averaging the largest crowd size in program history. The average has since dipped to 3,037, trailing only the 1992 season, when Illinois hosted the NCAA Regional and set a then-NCAA record with 52,666 total fans, averaging 3,098. With the potential to host up to four NCAA Tournament matches before the year's end, Illinois looks to put 2013 down as the most well-attended season ever.
• Illinois is 8-5 at home this season, with all five losses coming to teams in the top 15. The Illini are 70-18 in front of a home crowd since the start of 2008. 16 of the 18 losses came to teams in the top 25, including three to No. 1 Penn State.
• Illinois ranks 10th 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), Penn State (9), Illinois (10).
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.
The Illini have been racking up double-doubles this season, as 6-rotation players Jocelynn Birks and Alexis Viliunas have combined for 24 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 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 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 10 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 now available by calling the Illinois Ticket Office at 1-866-ILLINI-1 or online at http://bit.ly/1deKxFI. Single Session tickets will go on sale next week after teams have qualified for the regional.
With Illinois earning a national seed, the Illini have the unique good fortune of hosting the first four rounds of the tournament. Should Illinois continue to advance, the Orange and Blue would not have to play a road game until the Final Four.