CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Getting to the postseason is all about proving the doubters wrong.

“I want to show them in this real test that we’re one of the best volleyball programs in the Big Ten,” says junior Kennedy Collins.

The Illini are back in the postseason for the first time since their first round exit in 2019. Last season, they went 7-11 in the spring, and were left out of the 32 team tournament.

“I can argue we should’ve been in it,” says head coach Chris Tamas. “But just to be back in and have the chance to do damage, and have the opportunity to play against these teams.”

Back to a field of 64 teams this year, the Illini had no doubts they would earn a bid after winning two top-15 matches on the road and finishing the regular season ranked 23rd in the country.

“We are looking to make some noise in the tournament,” says junior Diana Brown. “I think that this team has the opportunity and the fight to do that.”

“We’re super excited about the accomplishments we’ve made so far, but we’re not done yet,” says senior Megan Cooney. “We’re ready to keep fighting, and see how far we can go in this tournament.”

This will be Megan Cooney’s fourth time playing in the postseason. The Illinois super-senior is just one of three women on the team that played in their Final Four appearance back in 2018. That experience will go a long way in helping Illinois get through West Virginia in the first round.

“I think things might get a little bit heightened as we get into the other arena down in Kentucky, but right now we’re treating it like like just another volleyball match,” says Cooney.

Friday’s match against West Virginia is at 4 p.m. on ESPN+. If Illinois makes it past the Mountaineers, they’ll likely face the defending national champs Kentucky on their home floor in Lexington.