NCAA Regionals Kicks off Friday at State Farm Center
ILLINOIS VS. THE FIELD
In an interesting turn of events, the Fighting Illini not only faced but defeated all three teams in the Champaign Regional during the 2013 season, going 3-1 overall against them. The Illini split the season series with Purdue, with each team winning at home. The Boilermakers gritted out a 3-1 victory at Mackey Arena in front of over 5,000 fans on Oct. 11, but the Illini bounced back to sweep Purdue on Nov. 16 in front of the largest Huff crowd of the season. The Illini are 43-37 all-time against the Boilermakers, but despite some epic Big Ten battles for the league title, the pair have never faced in the NCAA Tournament.
Fellow Big Ten member Wisconsin, the 12th overall seed in the tournament, was the only conference team not to come to Champaign this season. In Illinois' only meeting with the Badgers in 2013, the Orange and Blue picked up a key 3-1 road victory on Oct. 27 to finish out the first half of Big Ten play. Illinois is 47-31-1 all-time against the Badgers, and have won 10 of the last 11 matchups, falling in four on the road in 2012 for its first loss to Wisconsin since 2007. Should the pair square off in the Regional Final, it would be the second NCAA Tournament meeting between the two, as Wisconsin swept Illinois in the Round of 32 in 1990.
Illinois and Florida State have only faced each other five times in school history, but the pair kicked off the 2013 season together in Long Beach, when Illinois swept the Seminoles on opening night. FSU holds a minor 3-2 edge on the all-time series, with Illinois' only other victory coming back in 1986 at the start of the Illini's epic season which resulted in a Big Ten title and a trip to the Final Four. Should the pair face off in the Regional Final, it would be the first-ever postseason meeting between the two.
ILLINI REACH 14TH NCAA REGIONAL
Illinois earned a bid to the 2013 NCAA Tournament for the 21st time in program history, and with a pair of wins in the first two rounds, the Fighting Illini have advanced to the NCAA Regionals for the 14th time. The Illini earned a national seed, allowing them the opportunity to host the opening rounds 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.
2013 marks 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. Up until the final week of the regular season, the Illini were averaging the most fans in school history. A strong turnout at State Farm Center this weekend could push 2013 back to the top of the charts, as Illinois is currently averaging 3,016 fans per match.
Illinois is 34-20 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including an impressive 26-3 at home. The Illini are 6-7 all-time in the Regional Semifinals (Sweet 16), 3-3 in the Regional Finals (Elite Eight), and 9-10 overall in Regional matches. Illinois' three wins in Regional Finals came in 1987 (home), 1988 (home) and 2011 (Gainesville, Fla.), with Illinois advancing to the title match two seasons ago.
BIRKS, BELTRAN, MCMAHON EARN POSTSEASON HONORS
Sophomore Jocelynn Birks and senior Jennifer Beltran both earned AVCA All-Northeast Region selections, while junior Liz McMahon garnered an honorable mention. Additionally, Birks was a unanimous All-Big Ten selection, and McMahon earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention as well.
The pair of outside hitters have combined for 869 kills and 173 blocks on the season, adding 39 service aces, while six-rotation OH Birks has 269 digs. 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. Additionally, her 17 service aces in Big Ten matches ties for seventh in the conference.
Beltran has put the exclamation point on her fabulous career, retiring with the second-most career digs in Big Ten history and as Illinois' all-time digs leader. She has posted four of the top seven single-season digs performances, and finds herself on an all-region team for the first time since earning an honorable mention as a true freshman in 2010.
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 15 matches against teams in the RPI top 25, including eight vs. teams in the top 10. 24 of their 32 matches were against teams in the top 50. Illinois' lowest nonconference opponent was #95 Morehead State, with just two Big Ten teams sitting outside the top 100 (#124 Iowa, #130 Indiana).
Based on the current AVCA Coaches Poll, the Illini faced six of the top 10 teams, 13 of the top 20 and a total of 15 in the top 25. The Illini will face No. 19 Purdue on Friday, and should they advance, they will play either No. 13 Wisconsin or No. 16 Florida State in the Regional Final.
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 was the site of many great competitions, as five of this week's top-10 teams came 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. State Farm Center will play host to four ranked teams this weekend, will all four Regional qualifiers ranked in the top 20.
The Illini have faced a school-record 21 ranked opponents thus far and hold a 10-11 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. 22 Marquette on Dec. 7, it marked its 21st ranked opponent of the year. The Illini will make it 22 on Friday, and will face a 23rd ranked team should they advance to the Regional Final. That is the most ranked opponents for an NCAA team since 1996, when Stanford faced 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 the current RPI, Illinois has played eight matches against top-10 teams, 24 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 #8 Marquette, 3-1, and #10 Kentucky, 3-2. Illinois' upcoming opponent Purdue is currently #27, while potential Elite Eight competitors are #15 (Wisconsin) and #19 (Florida State).
The #20 Illini have gathered 12 wins over top-50 opponents, including #8 Marquette (3-1), #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 regular-season 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 the Orange and Blue have faced 10 of the 15 remaining teams in the tournament.
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. Illinois' first and second round opponents were also conference champions, in Morehead State (OVC) and Marquette (BIG EAST).
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 at the time, and 518 so far in 2013, Beltran now has four of the top seven. 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 seventh in the nation among active players and ranks second all time in conference history.
*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.
Additionally, seven Fighting Illini earned Academic All-Big Ten honors, awarded to those in at least their second academic year who have maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. Illinois' honorees: Courtney Abrahamovich, Julia Conard, Morganne Criswell, Anna Dorn, Liz McMahon, Kathryn Polkoff, Ali Stark.
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 all-time on the Big Ten network and 2-3 on television in 2013, having lost to Nebraska twice and No. 4 Penn State at home.
MAYERS EARNS TWO BIG TEN FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK HONORS
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 six 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 15 matches, the Illini have brought in the second-largest total fan attendance in school history, with 45,240. 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 3,016, 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 opportunity to host the 2013 NCAA Regional at State Farm Center, Illinois looks to put 2013 down as the most well-attended season ever.
Illinois is 10-5 at home this season, with all five losses coming to teams in the top 15. The Illini are 72-18 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 ninth in the nation in average attendance (3,016). Five of the top 10 teams attendance-wise are Big Ten teams: Nebraska (1), Minnesota (3), Wisconsin (5) Illinois (9), Penn State (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 25 on the season, along with one from Morganne Criswell. Birks has tallied 11 in 2013, including a streak of four straight from Oct. 18-27, and has 24 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.
HAMBLY CAPTURES 100TH CAREER VICTORY
It's been a long time coming, but Head Coach Kevin Hambly marked down his 100th career victory on Sept. 13, 2013, with a five-set victory over Arizona State. Hambly posted 82 wins through his first three seasons, but with such a challenging schedule in 2012, he had to wait another full season before finally crossing the three-digit plateau. Despite the implication that it took him a while, he is actually one of the fastest head coaches to ever reach the 100 mark, doing so in just 138 matches (.724).
Hambly is Illinois' third head coach to reach this milestone. Mike Hebert also captured his 100th win during his fifth season back on Oct. 30, 1987, in his 133rd match at Illinois. Don Hardin reached the milestone on Nov. 14, 2001, in match #175 towards the end of his sixth season.
ILLINI WIN LBSU MIZUNO INVITATIONAL
The Fighting Illini opened the season on the West Coast, taking on three top teams at the Long Beach State Mizuno Invitational. Illinois began by defeating No. 18 Florida State 3-0, then faltered after winning the first set at LBSU, dropping the match, 3-1. The young Illini quickly rebounded the following night, coming back from down 2-1 to defeat No. 17 Kentucky in five. After Kentucky defeated LBSU, the Illini were crowned as the invite champs.
Six Illini made their Orange and Blue debut at the invite, most notably redshirt freshman Maddie Mayers, whose outstanding performance earned her Big Ten Freshman of the Week and All-Tournament honors. True freshman Katie Stadick started in the middle against LBSU, and sophomore Kathryn Polkoff stuffed two blocks for her in the fourth set. True freshmen Katie Roustio, Danielle Davis and McKenna Kelsay all earned playing time on the weekend as well.
Jocelynn Birks earned her second career all-tournament MVP award, after leading all players with 58 kills to go along with 15 digs, six blocks and two aces. Jennifer Beltran played lights-out defense in the back row, earning all-tournament libero honors after recording 51 digs, including the 1,700th of her career. Junior Anna Dorn, who was still working her way back from offseason knee surgery, looked like her old self again in her start against No. 17 Kentucky, hitting .857 with six kills and six blocks.