CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — It was a season of ups and downs for Illinois volleyball, but they punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament after finishing the regular season 16-13.
The national stage is nothing new for the Illini who are making their third-straight appearance under head coach Chris Tamas. Freshman setter Diana Brown says they’re approaching it with a “clean-slate” mentality, and are using this season as a leaning experience.
The setter recently was named to the Big-Ten All-Freshman team after red-shirting last season when the Illini went to the Final Four.
“I’m glad I had that experience, so going into the tournament this year, I have really no worries going into any other arena or playing against another team,” says Brown. “I’m glad I got to experience that last year.”
Heading into the post-season the Illini dropped out of the Top-25 rankings for the first time this year, but still secured an at-large bid. Their difficult schedule this season included 11 ranked opponents, highlighted by their 5-set win over No. 7 Marquette. They fought close matches–but ultimately lost–to other ranked teams like Penn State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
“When you’re playing good opponents, that’s when it makes it tough, we’ve been in a lot of close moments, and we’ve won a lot of close moments too,” says Tamas. “We just have to draw back on those experiences, and especially now when you’re in the tournament.”
The Illini will face No.17 Utah in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The match will take place in Provo, UT on Friday, December 6th, at 5 p.m. CT.