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Beat writer Jeff Huth isn't going on Spring Break. He'll be here at 11 a.m. to take your questions about Matt Bollant's and/or Kevin Hambly's Illini.
Welcome to our weekly chat on Illini women's basketball and volleyball. We'll get started shortly.
-- Jeff Huth
Are there any other recruits Coach Bollant is looking for this year? Which recruit will have the biggest impact next year
I asked Matt Bollant a few days ago about whether there might be any late signees in the Class of 2013. He indicated that wasn't likely and that his focus is on future classes.
The recruit that will have the biggest impact in 2013-14 is already on campus. Sarah Hartwell, who transferred from Georgia Tech last year and sat out this season under NCAA transfer rules, is expected to move right into the lineup next season. Hartwell is a combo guard with play-making skills. One person connected with the program expects her to be the point guard next season, when Bollant puts in his passing offense. Bollant delayed implementing that scheme this season to better utilize the returning personnel and emphasize more of an inside-outside attack with center Karisma Penn.
Regarding the incoming freshmen, there will be a void to fill with Penn graduating. Jacqui Grant, a 6-3 forward fro Maine South, and Sarah Livingston, a 6-2 forward from Morton, are projected to be among the candidates for the "5" spot.
Another newcomer to keep an eye on is Taylor Gleason. The 5-8 guard from Goodrich High School in Michigan was the runner-up for that state's Miss Basketball award.
I just got the spring volleyball schedule, including the lineup for matches in Huff April 6. What (and who) are you most interested in seeing to get an idea of how the team is developing?
The Illini are scheduled to play six matches this spring, and the highest-profile opponents are all on the road.
Illinois travels to Kentucky to face a Wildcat team that reached the Sweet 16 last December. It also will visit Louisville, coached by former Illini assistant Anne Kordes. The Cardinals advanced to the NCAA second round in 2012. And Illini will take on NCAA qualifier Kansas State in a neutral-site match.
I asked Kevin Hambly about whether there was an opponent he was particularly interested in facing, and he quickly said no. That the spring is all about the development of his team. That's where the focus is, and not anyone on the other side of the net.
So, I'll take a stab at your question and say Kentucky. Historically, the SEC has lagged in the sport of volleyball with the exception of Florida. But that has changed in recent years, and Kentucky is among the prime reasons. Craig Skinner, a former assistant to John Cook at both Wisconsin and Nebraska, has the Kentucky program rolling. In his eight years at the Wildcat helm, Kentucky has never failed to get into the NCAA tournament. In three of the past four years, the Wildcats have reached the Sweet 16.
Kentucky produced three All-Americans last season, although junior outside hitter Whitney Billings will be the lone returnee in 2013. Billings was an AVCA second-team All-American, so she's a high-level talent.
Illini fans can catch the Illini on April 6, when Hambly's team will host Loyola, Northern Illinois and Indiana State. From my viewpoint, it will be interesting to see how sophomore-to-be Alexis Viliunas is progressing as the new full-time setter. The transition the team is making at that position will be critical to its 2013 prospects.
Do you know if Maddie Mayers redshirted last season? I believe there was some talk about her redshirting her freshman year. I'll be curious to see how she develops this year.
Can you give us a status update on Dorn's recovery? Is she practicing with the team this spring? I'd like to see her have a breakout season this year and this spring would be critical for her development.
Yes, Maddie Mayers did not appear in any Illini matches last season as a freshman, so the middle blocker was redshirted and retains four years of eligibility. Given the experience she's developed in fall practice and now in the spring, Mayers has that in her favor in the battle to replace departed senior middle Erin Johnson.
The other candidates to join Anna Dorn in the middle are freshman Kathryn Polkoff and incoming recruit Katie Stadick of Watertown, Wis.
I just talked to Kevin Hambly about Dorn, who was withheld late last season due to what the UI coach called a minor knee injury. Dorn is jumping in practices and has been cleared for other activities, but Hambly said he is having Dorn take in slow at this point because he wants her fully ready for the team's trip to Europe later this spring.
Your comment about a breakout season for Dorn is interesting. It could be argued that Dorn had just that in 2012, certainly from an offensive standpoint. When the passing and setting was on-target, Dorn was money. She finshed 19th in the nation in hitting percentage (.383), and that has to be a huge confidence boost for Dorn entering her junior season. If she can remain an offensive threat to that degree in 2013, it would be a major boost to an Illini attack that already possesses some great weapons on the outside.
We've run out of questions so we'll wrap this up. Thanks for your interest and talk to you next week.