Despite an unusual 11 a.m. start time, the Illinois women’s volleyball team continued its postseason run with a sweep over Marquette. The Illini got a strong performance in all aspects of the game to clinch a spot in the program’s seventh-ever Elite Eight that will take place at Huff Hall on Saturday.
For head coach Chris Tamas and his team, it’s the continuation of a storybook season so far. The team is putting together its best regular season in years leading to a hosting spot through the Elite Eight, which the Illini have used to full effect, only dropping one set through their first three rounds.
As expected it wasn’t a sell out at Huff due to the early start, but by the time the first serve came over the net, the stands were about filled, good enough for senior Jordyn Poulter to call it “incredible” after the game.
The Illini came out strong in the first set, jumping on the Golden Eagles early, and building an 8-3 lead off of a few errors to go with a smooth offensive performance at over .500 hitting percentage. Outside hitter Jacqueline Quade led the team with eight first set kills, and middle blocker Ali Bastianelli broke out of her offensive slump in the postseason with five kills on just five swings. Illinois rode its hot start and never gave up the lead, taking set one 25-19.
“She came out lights out, we know they like to go to her,” Marquette head coach Ryan Theis said. “She was really efficient.”
However, much like the second set against Louisville in the second round, Marquette made things more interesting after set one. The Golden Eagles were able to slow down Quade after her scorching set one, holding her to just two kills in the set two. Without Quade, the Illini turned to junior Beth Prince, who delivered a team-high five kills in the second frame.
“Any time one of the hitters starts off strong it really gets the defense really honed in on that one person,” Poulter said. “We are a very balanced offense, and that creates seams.”
After that test the Illini put together another impressive set, pulling away from Marquette early on to secure the sweep 25-16.
Illinois both outhit and outblocked Marquette despite Marquette’s height advantage, but for the Illini, it wasn’t anything they haven’t seen before.
“In the Big Ten we play these matchups every night,” Quade said. “We are used to finding ways to get touches against those bigger players.”
With the sweep the Illini earned their first berth to the Elite Eight since 2011, when they made the Final Four, finishing as the runner-up.
“As a program, you want to make a statement out there,” Tamas said. “This is how we compete. I just really cool to see the support that’s come through the last few weeks.”
Illinois possibly awaits Wisconsin, who play after the Illini against San Diego, for a chance go back to the Final Four. It’s a matchup that even the Illini players couldn’t deny.
“It’s gonna be a really fun match,” Poulter said. “If they pull it out we are really excited.”
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