Nov. 2 hoops & volleyball chat

Nov. 2 hoops & volleyball chat

Friday, November 2, 2012 - 11:00am

Jeff Huth said Matt Bollant's style of play is a thing of beauty after watching the Illini in their exhibition opener. Ask Huth — who covers volleyball and women's basketball for HQ — why during his weekly chat, which starts at 11 a.m. Friday. Submit questions any time.

Jeff Huth wrote on November 02, 2012 at 10:11 am
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Welcome to our weekly chat on Illini volleyball (and UI women's basketball questions are welcome, too, since I recently was assigned to that beat). We'll get started in a few minutes. As always, we appreciate your interest.

Jeff Huth

Anonymous User wrote on November 02, 2012 at 10:11 am

Jeff, is there any upside to having our true freshman setter burn her redshirt year halfway thru the season??

Jeff Huth wrote on November 02, 2012 at 11:11 am
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Anonymous User:

To me, this is one of the unfortunate aspects to the decision to change setters: Illinois won't have Alexis Viliunas available in 2016 as a fifth-year senior now that she has played this season.

Of course, it wouldn't be unfortunate if the switch in setters had worked out the way Kevin Hambly had hoped. Now, Annie Luhrsen is back starting (at least she has in the past two matches) and Viliunas is back on the bench.

The way I see it, Kevin Hambly had two options: stick with Viliunas even if the team continued to struggle, with the idea that it would enhance her development for next season, when she will be the starter. Or, he could do what he has done: go back to Luhrsen because she gives Illinois a better chance of winning its remaining matches.

I think what you're seeing is the competitor in Kevin Hambly. He wants and expects to win matches.

I'm sure he is being second-guessed by some fans about this. That comes with the territory of being a head coach. I'd regard this, by far, as the biggest personnel decision of his head coaching tenure here. And based on the results, it hasn't worked out, and now Viliunas has one fewer season of eligibility than she could have had. We'll learn in a few years how significant that is.

Steve H wrote on November 02, 2012 at 11:11 am

Wednesday night's brutal loss to Purdue effectively ended the Illini VB season. Just playing out the string now going from 2nd in the nation to 10th in the B1G in one year. Ugh! 

Looking to next year the only key loss to graduation is Erin Johnson. On the other hand aside from Birks we have performed woefully at the OH position  and desperately need help there, which leads to my questions. How did our 2013 recruits perform in their senior high school seasons? There are two OHs (Roustio and Strizak) and one MB )Stadick) in the class, and do you kinow where they are currently ranked nationally by the VB recruiting experts. Will either of them play in year one give the weakness at OH or are they redshirt candidates?

Also how did 2014 recruit Jordyn Pouler (S) fare in her junior year? She chose Illinois over national champ UCLA, so she must be a good one. Setter position should be okay til she arrives, as long as Viliunas stays healthy next year. Viliunas has struggled against the good teams, since being given her chance to be the setter on this year's team. I think the hard lessons learned this year will stand her in good stead nxxt year and thereafter at Illinois. Annie Luhrsen exceeded expectations last year, but Alexis was far more highly regarded coming into the program.

By the way who backs up Alexis on next years team? No other returning setters from this year's team.

Finally any other prospective recruits or transfers for 2013 or is that class complete? A quality transfer at OH would be a godsend. If not, we are still in pretty good shape going forward given how young and inexperienced this year's team is.

As you can see I think it's all about the future. We certainly don't want Hambly and the VB program going the way of Bruce Weber and MBB.







Jeff Huth wrote on November 02, 2012 at 11:11 am
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Looking ahead to next season, I think Michelle Strizak of Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame likely will make the quickest impact of the new class, possibly even earning a starting spot at outside hitter.

I have a lot of respect for the national rankings that puts out, and we'll report on where the incoming class is rated collectively and individually when that is announced. I think Katie Stadick of Watertown, Wis., has a shot at taking Johnson's spot at middle blocker, too. It probably depends on how much development freshman middle blocker Maddie Mayers, who is redshirting this season, makes during the spring.

Poulter, who is in the Class of 2015, was a real get. She's in the USA Volleyball developmental pipeline and she plays for a club team in Colorado that has former Ohio State coach Jim Stone on the coaching staff. In fact, Stone was the coach of the U.S. Girls Youth National Team that Poulter played for last summer in Europe. This is something to keep in mind when discussing how Viliunas burned a year of eligibility this season. If Poulter is as good as she projects to be, maybe not having Viliunas for an extra year isn't that hurtful. We'll see.

At this point, I'm not aware of any 2014 commitments. I, too, have wondered whether a college transfer might be a possibility. I have no knowledge of that, but it seems that volleyball is following the trend in college basketball of more and more players changing schools.

One of Hambly's off-season tasks will be lining up a back-up setter for Viliunas, whether it's from the returning group or a newcomer to the team.

Proud Illini Fan wrote on November 02, 2012 at 11:11 am

Love these chats! Keep em up!

I heard that some spike squad members snuck into the purdue student section? Is that accurate? Do you know what they did exactly or how they did it? You have got to love the creativity and passion that our kids have! Also, What are your opinions on the spike squad and the impact they make in Huff?

Jeff Huth wrote on November 02, 2012 at 11:11 am
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Proud Illini Fan:

At one point in Wednesday's match, some members of the Spike Squad showed up in the upper balcony on the east side in front of Purdue fans seated there and started jumping around and cheering. The Spike Squad members seated in their section on the west side really responded to this, cheering them on. It didn't last long (and probably shouldn't have; I'm sure the Purdue fans wanted to get back to watching the match), but it was a fun thing to see.

Over the years, Illini players repeatedly have expressed their appreciation of the Spike Squad (and Illini fans in general). You can tell they connect to fellow students who put in a lot of energy at these matches to support the team.

The Spike Squad is a big part of the atmosphere at Huff that makes it what it is: one of the best college volleyball venues in the country.

MattK61 wrote on November 02, 2012 at 11:11 am

Since early this season, I've thought one big loss for the volleyball team was Jazmine Orozco, who transferred to Pepperdine (closer to home) after her concussions. She had at least three things this team badly needs this year: experience, poise and passing. Comments?

Jeff Huth wrote on November 02, 2012 at 11:11 am
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Agree with you completely.You have to wonder how much different this season might have turned out if she had chosen to remain at Illinois and, importantly, had played like she currently is at Pepperdine.

That said, I don't think Orozco should be judged -- or criticized -- for the decision she made. With the concussion problems she suffered through before and during the 2011 season, Orozco experienced a very challenging time. This was serious stuff. As a native of Southern California, she made the decision to mover closer to home. Thankfully, she appears to have fully recovered from the concussion symptoms -- on Tuesday, Orozco was named West Coast Conference Player of the Week after belting a career-high 27 kills against Loyola Marymount -- and now is showing what a talented player she can be when healthy.

But you're right; Illini fans have to wonder how much of a difference a veteran junior like Orozco might have made this season -- especially in some of those five-set losses when one or two kills at critical times might have made a difference. Her presence also might have taken some of the load off freshman outside hitter Jocelynn Birks or given Illinois another solid attacking option in those matches when Birks wasn't playing at her best.

Lucy D wrote on November 02, 2012 at 11:11 am


Looks realistically like the season is all but over for the disappointing volleyball team but just in time the basketball team is taking over al boy are they ever exciting to watch. I love how aggressive they are (quite a contrast from volleyball) and unbelievable effort from every player. I am impressed with the huge change going from Law to Coach Bollant. The players seem better motivated and more confident too. Do you sense more cohesiveness on the team and better strategy approach better suited to the players?


Jeff Huth wrote on November 02, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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Lucy D:

Since I did not cover women's basketball during the Law era, I have no point of reference to compare how different things are now. However, after watching the team's exhibition opener the other night, it was impressive how hard the Illini played and how they mostly were able to sustain that level of intensity over the course of the game, even with a seven-player rotation (only eight players dressed).

When I interviewed Karsima Penn last week, she made it clear that Matt Bollant arrived with a ton of credibility and, because of that, the players have full trust in his ability to turn the progam around, and quickly. I'm paraphrasing here, but Penn said something like: If Bollant had his players at Green Bay making early morning runs around campus, then she was ready and willing to do that, too, based on how much success his teams had there.

From his comments, Bollant appears confident that his schemes and strategies and playbook can work well with the talent he has on this Illini team. He's also said that the athleticism on this team is superior to what he worked with at Green Bay, and that he's excited about that and what it can mean to this team's success.


Anonymous User wrote on November 02, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Hi Jeff, I've been an Illinois volleyball fan for 20 years, supporting the team through thick and thin. I'm a huge fan of Coach Hambly and appreciate what he's done for the volleyball program. However, after watching Coach Weber struggle with recruiting following the basketball's team appearance in the NCAA championship game, I'm starting to worry that the volleyball team may find itself in a simlar situation. In the past week, two of Illinois' top remaining recruits for 2014 have verballed to other Big 10 teams (Adeja Lambert to Michigan and Ali Frantti to Penn State). That now makes four of the top recruits from Illinois who have committed to other Big 10 schools (including Haggerty to Nebraska and Weiskircher to Penn State) for the class of 2014. All of the other Big 10 teams have secured their commitments for 2014, yet Illinois still doesn't have any players listed for 2014. Why do you think Hambly is struggling to keep the elite players in Illinois from joining his squad (particularly after an NCAA title run)? Who are some of the other players that Illinois is recruiting for 2014 (aside from Jaelyn Keene)? Is Illinois actively recruiting any international players? Has Illinois offered Keene a scholarship? Who else is recruiting her? What other elite players are still available for 2014? Any insights into the recruiting situation would be appreciated. Thank You!

Jeff Huth wrote on November 02, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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Anonymous User:

It is puzzling that Illinois hasn't capitalized more on its NCAA runner-up finish in the area of recruiting. Although Hambly won't discuss individual recruits, I know that Lambert and Frantti were top recruting priorities for the Illini progam. Their decisions to go elsewhere definitely was a blow to Illinois.

With the exception of Liz McMahon, Illinois has had a tough time when going head to head with Penn State on recruiting, but the Illini aren't alone in that. Russ Rose's program is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla of college volleyball.

Not sure whether Illinois has offered on Jaelyn Keene. As a sophomore last year, she made The News-Gazette's all-state team as an honorable mention choice and undoubtedly will have a more promiment place on our 2012 team.

With Lambert and Frantti out of the picture, Hambly perhaps faces some tough choices in the Class of 2014. I'm sure he doesn't want to settle on a lesser prospect simply to have a signee in that class. 


RichardfromClinton wrote on November 02, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Hi Jeff!!  Aren't we hosting a volleyball regional next year?  If so, when will Assembly Hall host a regular season match?  To mix topics - what are you most looking forward to with this season's women's BBall team?? Thanks and keep up the nice work!

Jeff Huth wrote on November 02, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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Yes, the UI is hosting an NCAA regional in volleyball in 2013. I asked Kevin Hambly a while back about the number of regular-season matches that the Illini will be playing at Assembly Hall next season. He said then that the number had not yet been determined but it would be "multiple" times. So, that means at least twice. He made the point that the Assembly Hall would give scheduling priority to concerts and other events that are so vital to the facility's bottom line. Any dates on which Illinois has a home match scheduled and the Hall isn't otherwise booked would be possibilities. I'm sure Hambly would prefer that some of the more attractive matches on the 2013 home schedule are seriously considered for being played at the Hall.

I think the storyline for Illini women's basketball this season is how much improvement the team can make in Matt Bollant's first year. His resume is terrific and all signs point to Illinois making progress and eventually becoming a contender for Big Ten titles and annual NCAA appearances. But how quickly does that happen? If this team is generally competitive against good opponents and turns in a respectable record, I'm sure Illini fans will be pleased. Given the lack of depth, it's imperative for everyone to stay injury-free and healthy. But Illini fans might also brace themselves for some inconsistent play, too. It's early in the transition to a new staff, and there could be bumps in the road this season. We'll just have to wait and see.

Jeff Huth wrote on November 02, 2012 at 12:11 pm
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We'll wrap up the chat now. As always, we appreciate the interest. Talk to you next week.

Jeff Huth