AVCA Honors Three Illini with Regional Awards
Dec. 10, 2013
Lexington, Ky. - The American Volleyball Coaches Association announced its Division I All-Region awards this afternoon, selection three Fighting Illini to All-Northeast Region teams. Sophomore outside hitter Jocelynn Birks and senior libero Jennifer Beltran earned All-Region honors, while junior outside hitter Liz McMahon garnered an honorable mention. Today's awards are the first career regional honors for both outsides.
Outside hitter Jocelynn Birks earns her first career AVCA All-Region award after earning a unanimous All-Big Ten honor following the regular season. A potent attacker, Birks ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 40th in the nation in kills per set, fourth in the Big Ten and 38th in the nation in points, and was fourth in both categories during conference play. The six-rotation player gained confidence with her serve towards the end of the season, landing 10 aces in the final eight matches to finish the year tied for seventh in aces per set in Big Ten play. The Willow Springs, Ill., native has totaled 488 kills, 269 digs, 75 blocks, 27 aces and 20 assists on the season, putting up a sum of 556.5 points in 2013.
"Jocelynn has emerged as one of the better outsides in the league, and maybe in the country," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly, "only time will tell."
After two seasons for the Orange and Blue, Birks ranks second in the nation in career attempts per set (12.30) and ninth in kills per set (4.09), sitting in third place among underclassmen with 998 career kills. The OH tallied eight 20-kill matches in 2013 and has 19 for her career, which is tied for fourth all-time at Illinois with two full seasons left to play. Additionally, she already ranks 11th all-time in career attempts (3,002), posting two seasons in the top seven.
Senior libero Jennifer Beltran earns her first postseason honor since her rookie season, when she earned an All-Mideast Region Honorable Mention along with a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. The Reseda, Calif., native has been a steady leader in the back line all season as a key component of the Illini's success. Ranked third in the Big Ten in digs per set, the libero has 518 digs so far in 2013, including 10 20-dig performances. Beltran became Illinois' all-time career digs leader in mid-October and has since moved into second place all-time in Big Ten history, while ranking seventh nationally among active players. A true senior leader, she has been influential in the Illini's much-needed late-season surge.
"I think Jen has separated herself as a libero this year," said Hambly. "I thought she was the best libero in the league and it is nice for her to get that recognition. She didn't win defensive player of the year and that doesn't surprise me, because she does so much more with passing and setting, and that's why a libero isn't always all about defense. She will leave us as the number two dig leader of all time (in the Big Ten), which shows her consistency. She makes things look easy. It's nice to see her get recognized for that."
Outside hitter Liz McMahon earns her first career regional honor after also picking up an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention this season. The Liberty Township, Ohio, native came through in the clutch several times for the Illini, nailing 23 kills to lead Illinois to a hard-fought victory in five sets over Arizona State and hitting .383 with a combined 38 kills in wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin on back-to-back Sundays. McMahon recorded her 1,000th career kill on Nov. 27 against Northwestern and ranks 127th in the nation in career kills. The 6-6 front row player has totaled 98 blocks on the season, including putting up 10 against Kentucky in a 5-set victory back on Aug. 31. McMahon was incredibly efficient in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, hitting at least .400 with double-digit kills on back-to-back nights, including 17 against No. 22 Marquette to go along with five blocks in the second round.
"I'm a little disappointed that Liz (only received an honorable mention), but she has another year to try and make it in there and has the potential become an All-American."
Birks and Beltran represent two of the 14 student-athletes on the All-Northeast Region team. Of the remaining 12, only two play for teams outside of the Big Ten, Ohio University's Abby Gelleland (S) and Kelly Lamberti (OH), with Penn State leading the charge with five honorees. A total of 26 Big Ten players earned all-region selections from either the North or Northeast regions, with an additional five honorable mentions.
Wisconsin setter Lauren Carlini, one of two Badgers on the All-Region team, earned Northeast Region Freshman of the Year, while Penn State Head Coach Russ Rose was named Region Coach of the Year, mimicking the corresponding Big Ten postseason awards.
The complete Northeast Region honorees are listed below. Click here for the full list of honorees for all regions.
Freshman of the Year: Lauren Carlini, Wisconsin, S
Coach of the Year: Russ Rose, Penn State University
About AVCA: The AVCA, with its headquarters in Lexington, Ky., is managed by Associations International. The mission of the AVCA is to develop the sport of volleyball and its coaches. With a membership of over 6,000 and counting, the AVCA provides a professional network for those individuals and companies dedicated to enhancing and promoting the sport. Members include collegiate, high school, club, youth and Olympic coaches, as well as volleyball club directors. The AVCA provides education to volleyball coaches, recognition of elite players and coaches, promotion of volleyball competitions throughout the world, and networking opportunities for volleyball products and services providers. Further information is available at www.avca.org.