It’s been only 355 days since the Illini volleyball team has played in an NCAA tournament match.
But this year’s postseason play couldn’t look more different from the year before. For starters, the Illini will be hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament after clinching a No. 2 RPI ranking. Overall, Illinois is No. 3 in the nation — and one of only two Big Ten teams in the Top Five (Minnesota is ranked ahead of Illinois at No. 2).
Illinois’ journey to this year’s NCAA tournament began on the road, where the team started its impressive away record of 13-1 with victories over the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Colorado State and Northern Colorado.
Those three wins started the Illini on a 14-game winning streak that lasted until they hosted the then-No. 3 Cornhuskers at home, losing to the former national champions in four sets.
The beginning of Big Ten play forced Illinois into the face of adversity as it picked up two more losses after the game against Nebraska, losing to Wisconsin at home and Minnesota on the road. Minnesota would later become the only team in the Big Ten to remain ahead of Illinois in the NCAA Division I rankings.
By the time Illinois faced Wisconsin for the second time, however, the difficulties it dealt with seemed to be non-factors, beating Wisconsin in four sets. This victory began a new winning streak for Illinois, as it won the last 13 games of the regular season.
Along the way, individual Illini picked up various honors; senior Jordyn Poulter was a five-time Big Ten Setter of the Week, senior Ali Bastianelli became the Illinois and Big Ten career block assists leader and was the first-ever Illini to reach 700 career total blocks, junior Jacqueline Quade was named Big Ten Player of the Week and sophomore Morgan O’Brien picked up Big Ten honors as well.
All the Illini’s accolades and honors will be on the line as they host the first round of NCAA competition; while their No. 3 seed affords them some comfort in the first round, the road to Minneapolis isn’t all smooth sailing. But they have experience on their side — this year marks their ninth postseason appearance in the last 11 seasons.
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