Illinois came into the match a perfect 14-0 and the last unbeaten team in the B1G. They are led by their two seniors, Poulter, a setter, and Bastianelli, a middle blocker. Both were All-B1G and 3rd team AVCA All-Americans last year. They also have a four-pronged attack with Bastianelli, their two outsides Quade and Prince, both juniors, and opposite hitter Cooney, who is a sophomore. Cooney, like Stivrins and Sweet, made the All-Freshman B1G team. And in an unusual twist, Sweet and Cooney both come from Kansas and happened to play volleyball on the same high school team.
Poulter is a different animal in that she is a 6’ 2” setter that is among the team leaders in blocks, and can do more than just ‘pineapple’ a ball for a kill. She narrowly missed a triple double twice last year. In one match she had 50 assists, 17 digs, and 9 kills on .750 hitting percentage. In another match she had 52 assists, 14 digs, and 8 blocks. In reality, she has the potential for a quadruple double.
No more high school gyms, the Illini play in an arena called the Huff Hall, which seats a little over 4,000 people, a size similar to the old Coliseum. Not a state of art facility, but the crowd can be loud and the student section is definitely rowdy. Illinois is typically in the top 10 in the nation in volleyball attendance.
Last night at Evanston Township High School, the Huskers kind of stumbled around but still managed a 3 set victory. Lauren Cook gave the team a grade of C-. Tonight, from the very early onset, it was clear Evanston was a million miles away, and the ladies came to Champagne with their A game. It also helped that Nebraska was outfitted in cool new black uniforms.
The Huskers and Illini started the 1st set by trading points, but the sense was that Nebraska was in control of the match. The Big Red broke through in a big way when Densberger stepped to the service line and ran off 8 straight points and put the score at 20 to 11. Because of poor Illini passing, Poulter started having issues setting the Illini outsides resulting in their hitters tangling with the antennas 3 or 4 times. After Densberger served Illinois into a deep deficit, Stivrins then finished them off by serving a couple of aces to win the 1st set 25-14. It was the best set played by Big Red all year, even better than the 2nd set against Michigan State that resulted in Sparty being crushed 25-8.
The Illini finally relaxed a bit, made adjustments, and after spotting Big Red a 4 point lead (8 to 4), came out strong in set 2. The Husker serve wasn’t as stifling as in set 1 and as the Illini passing improved, the Blue and Orange attack became more efficient. Quade was effective throughout the match, but Prince’s game alive in the 2nd. A key call in the 2nd was when Stivrins was set and, instead of being credited with a kill, she was called for a carry. The difference of being 20-23 and serving, instead the Illini still had the service and were looking at set point 24-19. The Illini won last 4 points to win 25-19.
And while Prince remained warm in the early stages of the 3rd, the Huskers jumped out to an early lead. It still was an even match, but the Huskers kept applying pressure with their service game until the passing game for Illinois started to crack. As Prince cooled off for the home team, Schwarzenbach started to heat up, both in blocking and on the attack. Then Foecke stepped to the service line and had another long service run, the 2nd in as many nights, to blow open a relatively close set.
The 4th set was Callie Schwarzenbach time. She started the set with a series of blocks and punctuated it with a series of kills. It also appeared that Prince (and others) for the home team were beginning to tire (go Husker Power) leading to more passing and attack errors. However, the bionic right arm of Quade seemed to never tire and kept the Illini close throughout the fourth. The Schwarzenbach kills finally put some distance between Nebraska and Illinois and then a Sweet kill finished them off.
Easily the best overall match of the year for Big Red. Even in the 2nd set, the Huskers didn’t play poorly, Illinois simply elevated their play, particularly in the passing game. Whether it was the service game (8 aces to 2), the block (14 to 7), or defense (.147 hitting percentage vs .266), it is difficult to say which phase of the game was more impressive.
Offensively, the middles were the stars. Schwarzenbach had 9 kills on 11 swings and Stivrins had 8 kills on 18 swings. Hames did another masterful job at distributing to all the weapons (Sun 32 attacks & 9 kills, Foecke 28 attacks & 13 kills, Sweet 24 attacks 8 kills, and the Middles 29 attacks 19 kills). Because the passing was much better than the previous night, Hames got the middles even more involved and to my surprise, and no doubt the surprise of Illinois, Schwarzenbach took the opportunity and crushed it. I’m hoping this Schwarzenbach thing is a trend, and not a one off.
It was impressive to see that the All-American middle, Bastianelli, was clearly the third best middle on the floor tonight, at least to this untrained eye.
In the B1G, Wisconsin came back from the pummeling they suffered to Minnesota, and beat Purdue in straight sets 25-23, 25-19, and 26-24. Purdue is having difficulties winning the close sets having lost a couple of two point differential and deuce sets to Illinois the previous week. Purdue DID beat Maryland in straights earlier in the week. Ohio State carried the momentum of beating Penn State last week ……………by losing twice this week (Indiana in four, Maryland in five). Penn State beat Sparty on Thursday and plays Michigan on Sunday. Minnesota followed up their thrashing of Wisconsin by beating Indiana in straight sets.
Nationally, BYU easily handled their worthless opponents in their worthless conference with 3 straight set victories. The West Coast Conference should add a moral victory column to their standings for any team that scores more than 19 points on the Cougars in a set. Of the three matches (9 sets) BYU played, at least Pepperdine could have walked away with a moral victory.
Stanford had the representatives from SoCal swing through Palo Alto this week. The Color Cardinal dispatched of UCLA and USC in straight sets. USC at least tried to make it competitive for the first two sets. The rest of the PAC-12 is a mess. Arizona State, who I thought was the worst team in the conference, beat Oregon State, and Arizona, who I thought was the 9th best team in the conference, beat national ranked 12 Oregon. And the Arizona schools were on the road. Utah dropped to 0-3 in conference and face Washington on Sunday. It is likely that the Utes will drop out of the rankings.
Undefeated Pittsburg beat Miami on Thursday in straight sets and play Florida State on Sunday. And of course my beloved Shorthorns of UT@SUCKS beat Baylor and West Virginia in straight sets this week. My prediction is that the first 4 spots don’t change, even though Texas should be dropped to 7th or 8th. But since that didn’t happen last week, or the week before, it won’t happen this week. Texas stays at 4. Minnesota should move up to 5, the question after that is whether the coaches will push undefeated Pittsburgh to 6th, or keep the B1G schools that took a loss this week (Wisky and the Illini) ahead of them. If the Cult that is Penn State loses today, then Creighton may move up from 10. Creighton did win both matches this week, but Butler DID take them to 5. As far as 11 through 25, you really need the results of the Sunday PAC-12 matches to make even a guess of what the chaos will look like.
Next is Iowa who plays Northwestern today. They were largely unimpressive in non-conference play but did beat Iowa State in 4 sets. They are 1-2 in conference (MSU victory, losses to Michigan and Illinois) and are 9-5 overall. I believe the annihilation will be televised (on BTN proper).
Husker fans are fortunate to have this team as medicinal therapy for the disaster that is the football team. I DON'T KNOW how many splendid Stivrins kills, Hames sets, Maloney digs, Foecke aces, or Schwartzenbach blocks in a volleyball match it takes to OFFSET the stupid roughing the passer, late hit out of bounds, defensive holding negating an interception, block in the back negating a solid punt return, and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that occur throughout the football game. All I KNOW is that I had a smile on my face after watching the volleyball match. And in my sleep, I had pleasant dreams. Go Big Red and the Fightin’ Schwarzenbachs.