Catching up with the spike set

On the eve of the NCAA volleyball title match between Oregon and Texas, we offer some catching-up news and notes on Kevin Hambly’s Illini program:

One year ago on this date (Dec. 14), Hambly was a 24 hours away from coaching in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament — a match the Illini won en route to finishing second in the nation. The fourth-year UI head coach is back at the Final Four this week, keeping busy with his duties as a member of the American Volleyball Coaches Association board of directors.
Hambly currently serves as the Division I representative on the board, but earlier this fall he was elected board president.
His two-year term in that position begins Jan. 1 and he will be succeeding another coach with Illini ties. Former UI assistant Anne Kordes, now the head coach at Louisville, is the outgoing AVCA president.
Since Hambly’s term as Division I rep was to run through Jan. 10, 2014, Kordes will select his replacement before her own term as board president expires on Dec. 31.

The AVCA always holds its annual convention during the week of — and at the site of — the Final Four. It always offers an opportunity for coaches in search of new opportunities to connect with programs, and for head coaches looking to fill vacancies on their staffs to survey the pool of candidates. Former Illini All-American Laura DeBruler is among those in Louisville pursuing a full-time position in collegiate volleyball, according to Hambly. DeBruler served on Hambly’s staff this season as a volunteer assistant coach.

Look for another young member of Hambly’s 2012 staff to move to a new program soon. Michelle Bartsch, also a former Illini All-American, was a student assistant coach for her alma mater this season.
Bartsch is expected to join the staff of the Cal Irvine men’s program as a volunteer assistant. The head coach of the defending NCAA champion Anteaters is former UI assistant David Kniffin. Kniffin was on the Illini staff during Bartsch’s senior season in 2011 during that memorable run to the Final Four in San Antonio.
Kniffin indicated this week that Bartsch is exploring opportunities to play professional beach volleyball and would relocate for that to the southern California area. Although no official announcement has yet been made, Kniffin indicated that Bartsch would continue her coaching career at Irvine, too.
“I know who Michelle is as a player and a person and I feel she fits the culture and the skill sets we need to take the program to the next level,” Kniffin said from Louisville this week.
Irvine opens its season on Jan. 2. The Anteaters return four starters plus their libero from the 2012 title team.

Illini recruit Michelle Strizak was named Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year for Ohio earlier this week.
The senior outside hitter from Cincinnati led Mount Notre Dame High School to the state’s Division I regional semifinals. Strizak had 401 kills, 232 digs, 48 service aces and 26 blocks this season while hitting .428 for the 25-1 Cougars.
Last month, Strizak was among three Illini recruits earning Under Armour All-America honors. Strizak and middle blocker Katie Stadick of Watertown, Wis., were selected to the first team. Outside hitter Katie Roustio of O’Fallon was a second-team choice.

At his signing-day press conference in November, Hambly made a comment about Strizak and Stadick that has been  misinterpreted by some of the reporters on hand. While discussing his latest recruiting class, the Illini coach said he wouldn’t be surprised if those two players ended up being first-team All-Americans. He was referring to the Under Armour All-America high school honors to be announced later that month and not projecting Strizak and Stadick as future first-team college All-Americans. Of course, that’s always a possibility, but few coaches would be so audacious as to put that label on a recruit who has yet to step foot on a college practice court. Hambly isn’t one of them.

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