Sept. 19 volleyball chat

Sept. 19 volleyball chat

Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 11:00am

College volleyball beat writer Jeff Huth chats at 11 a.m. Thursdays. Submit questions of any kind at any time.

Jeff Huth wrote on September 19, 2013 at 11:09 am
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Welcome to our weekly chat on Illini volleyball. We'll get started in a few minutes.

A few notes before we get going; we'll have a story on middle blocker Anna Dorn in Friday's News-Gazette and on-line at The redshirt junior has been through a lot in the past year with knee surgery and the death of her grandfather. Dorn opened up with us about how she's dealing with challenges she's experienced since late last season. We'll also take a look ahead to the weekend matches. That report will appear on-line and, depending on space availability, partially or fully in the N-G, too.

Also, Saturday's match at Duke begins at 5:30 p.m. Some schedules printed before the season indicate 6 p.m. (that's what the UI media guide has), but Duke has set first serve for 5:30.

With no Illini football game this week, both matches will be carried live on WDWS-AM 1400 in Champaign.

-- Jeff Huth

BRucks wrote on September 19, 2013 at 11:09 am

My goodness, check out these B10 stats:


Hitting % - Illinois 12th

Opponent Hitting % - Illinois 12th

Assists - Illinois 12th

Assists by Opponent - Illinois 12th

Kills - Illinois 12th

Kills by Opponent - Illinois 12th

Service Aces - Illinois 8th

Digs - Illinois 8th

Jeff Huth wrote on September 19, 2013 at 11:09 am
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Doesn't look good, does it. And I know Kevin Hambly is concerned about his team's attack. He said that's been a focus this week in practice, and he and his staff are studying videotape and analyzing some in-depth statistics to try to figure out ways to put attackers in the best situations possible to have success.

One thing to keep in mind about the current statistical rankings is that Illinois, compared to most teams in the Big Ten, has played a far more challenging nonconference schedule. Consider this: in the current AVCA Top 25 poll, the Illini have already faced No. 2 San Diego, No. 3 Washington, No. 6 Texas, No. 17 Florida State, No. 18 Arizona State, No. 19 Kentucky and No. 25 Iowa State.

Illinois' strength-of-schedule rating has to be off the charts. And it doesn't get any easier Friday, with the Illini traveling to No. 15 North Carolina.

Go on-line and check out some of the nonconference schedules for other Big Ten teams. You'll find some challenging matches, but not nearly as many as Illinois has played. In most cases, it's not even close. Even Penn State, which certainly is in position to tackle the nation's best every single match, has these opponents this weekend: Albany, Eastern Kentucky and Yale.

Bottom line: the degree of difficulty in scheduling at this time of year is going to impact your statistical rankings within the conference. My advice is to wait until Illinois is halfway through its Big Ten schedule before judging the team from the perspective of where it ranks in kills, hitting percentage, opponent hitting percentage, etc.

That should give you a far more valid picture of how the Illini are doing compared to their conference peers. And, of course, the best indicator will be the W-L record.

Brent wrote on September 19, 2013 at 11:09 am

Can you give us an update on what the current rotation looks like. It seems, of late, that Coach is using more defensive specialists in the back row. I see Criswell in the box scores along with Conard pretty consistently. What role has Criswell been playing--does she function primarily as a spark plug?

What players are playing six rotations and who might you guess has a good shot at earning more playing time? 

Jeff Huth wrote on September 19, 2013 at 11:09 am
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The question on which players are playing in all rotations is tricky because, as an example, Liz McMahon has done so at times, but Kevin Hambly also has subbed for her in the back row under certain circumstances.

Generally, you will see Alexis Viliunas, Jocelynn Birks and Ali Stark play all around. The middle blockers are coming out when they rotate to the back row and, of course, libero Jennifer Beltran is a back-row specialist.

Criswell typically has come in when the Illini need a spark on offense or when, as Hambly has done during at least two matches this season, the UI coach moves McMahon from the left side to the right side. He did so during the Kentucky match for offensive reasons. Against Texas, he did so again, but this time to put up a bigger block against the Longhorns' outside hitters with the 6-6 McMahon.

I think Conard is a valuable member of this team. She really came on strong down the stretch as a true freshman last season, and the defensive specialist has reached double figures in digs in each of the last two matches, including 14 against Texas. With Beltran in her senior year, I would expect Conard to strongly contend for the libero position in 2014.

As far as more playing time, freshman middle blocker Katie Stadick was outstanding against Arizona State last Friday, and she continues to gain Hambly's trust that she's up to the task even though it's very early in her college career.




Brent wrote on September 19, 2013 at 11:09 am

With stud recruits Poulter and Prince on the way, are there other names surfacing that we could conceivably become excited about?

What is the current scholarship breakdown...what has been promised to Conard, Davis and Kelsay...and any others that have scholarships promised?

I know Poulter is a setter and I believe Prince is an outside...what do you see as needs as recruiting unfolds over the course of the next 18 months, or so.

Being young and having a ton of talent is a good problem to have...will we potentially miss out on players that want to come here due to a lack of space?

Jeff Huth wrote on September 19, 2013 at 11:09 am
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Besides Poulter and Prince, Illinois also has an oral commitment in the same Class of 2015 from middle blocker  Alison Bastianelli of Marysville, Mich. This already shapes up as one of the nation's top groups in that class, and Hambly is trying to land at least one more player in that class, having offered to outside hitter Madison Duello of Liberty High School in Missouri.

Conard is scheduled to go on scholarship for the 2014-15 academic year, which will be her junior year. She was promised two years.

When she committed to Illinois, current freshman Kelsay said she was promised a scholarship for her sophomore and senior academic years. As I have learned in the past, sometimes these things can be a fluid situation, with the years possibly changing but not the promised number of scholarship years.

Future Illini needs starting with the Class of 2016 are pretty much across the board -- libero, middle blocker and outside hitter. Hambly has repeatedly talked this season about wanting to have a rotation of three middle blockers. That kind of depth, he feels, is vital at such a physically demanding position. And there isn't a college coach who isn't eager to have quality depth at the pin positions, where the majority of the attack attempts are taken.

Looking at the near future, Dorn will have one year of eligibility left after this season, and the same is true of McMahon and Criswell.


Anonymous User wrote on September 19, 2013 at 11:09 am

Hi Jeff,
How are the Illinois commitments from Indiana and Michigan doing? I read about the one from Colorado, and she surely appears to be doing fine.

Thanks for this chat. IlliniInNaples

Jeff Huth wrote on September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm
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This is indeed an exciting year for Illini commitment Jordyn Poulter of Aurora, Colo. The Class of 2015 setter helped a U.S. team win silver at the FIVB Girls' Under-18 World Championship in Thailand this summer. No American team ever had finished as high in that tournament.

She also was invited -- and accepted -- to play for the U.S. team that will compete in the inaugural FIVB U-23 World Championship Open in Tijuana, Mexico, Oct. 5-12. According to her high school coach, Poulter will miss five matches, but, of course, this is an opportunity that can't be passed up. It's a testament to highly regarded Poulter is by USA Volleyball officials that they think she is capable of competing at an intenational level against players much older than her.

Wasn't able to find stats on Illini commitments other than Prince. Through 15 matches for Avon (Ind.) High school, the 6-3 outside hitter is hitting at a .450 clip and averaging 3.9 kills per set. She also had 29 blocks and 34 digs.

Bastianelli is coming off an impressive summer, having earned All-America honors in the 16 Open division of the AAU Girls' Junior National Championships with her Legacy volleyball club.

For all three, there certainly will be awards and honors coming out of the 2013 prep volleyball season, but the best competition they face is through club volleyball, so what each accomplishes there is more meaningful.


Jeff Bowling wrote on September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm

In the 1st and 5th set of the Texas vs Illinois matchup, Illinois had some key service errors, that played a big factor in Illinois losing those sets.  I think that Illinois had 2 in the 1st and 3 in the 5th.  What can Illinois do so that way they don't have so many key service errors in a close set?  Do you feel that the players need to relax better?  Not hit the ball so hard?  I do think that losing a close set, such as the 1st and 5th set against Texas because of some key service errors, is no different than say San Antonio losing Game 6 to Miami because they missed a couple key free throws late in the 4th quarter. 

Jeff Huth wrote on September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm
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Kevin Hambly has always said that he wants his teams to serve aggressively. To do otherwise, he says, makes it too easy for the opponent to pass well and to set up a high-percentage kill attempt.

I'm not disputing what you say about the Texas match, but it's worth noting that Illinois had five service aces to the Longhorns' two. And Texas had a whopping 11 service errors compared to the Illini's seven. Certain service errors for Illinois might have been ill-timed, but overall the Illini had otherbigger issues, primarily having a tougher time siding out than Texas.

Hambly felt that his team's serving in the Washington match was a far bigger problem. Illinois ended up with 11 service errors against the Huskies, and as the errors piled up, Hambly said he saw his team become less aggressive behind the service line. That allowed Washington to side out at a 73 percent rate in the third third and at 85 percent in the fourth and final set. The Huskies ended up hitting .260 in the third set and .500 in the fourth. By not serving tougher, Illinois found it increasingly more difficult to stop Washington's attack.

Is there a solution or remedy? That's what practice is for. But Hambly definitely wants his team to remain aggressive behind the service line, and the cost of that sometimes is service errors. The goal is to minimize those while remaining aggressive.

Anonymous User wrote on September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I'm excited about the new season and have been pleased with the performance of Maddie Mayers.  What is the status of Dorn?  I know she has been playing sporadically, but her numbers are well below last year's (hitting percentage and kkp).  

With Dorn seemingly not playing at full strength, I'm concerned about our limited and predictable offense.  It seems we only have three viable options now (Birks, McMahon and Mayers), which makes it easy for teams to prepare for.  I assume this is why Birks and McMahon's hitting percentages are down this years as teams are able to key on them.  Your thoughts?



Jeff Huth wrote on September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm
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Be sure to check out our story on Anna Dorn in Friday's News-Gazette and on-line at when it is posted there.

Maddie Mayers has emerged as a potent attacker and filled some of the void created as Dorn works her way back from knee surgery. But Mayers can experience the inconsistency that comes with being in your first season of competing at the college level. We saw that against Washington, and Kevin Hambly didn't hesitate to put in freshman Katie Stadick in her place as that match progressed. Then Mayers rebounded against Texas with 15 kills in 31 swings.

If Dorn can play more often like she did against Washington (7 kills in 11 swings), that gives Illinois another option. The Illini also would like to get more offense out of right-side hitter Ali Stark. At this point, the redshirt sophomore has a decent amount of college experience, having played a lot last season. It's just a matter of taking the next step offensively.

At their best, Birks and McMahon can be a mighty potent combination. But Illinois certainly needs other options -- and options that are consistent -- so the block can't focus on the UI's outside hitters.



BRucks wrote on September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Is McMahon being asked to do too much this year?  It would seem like we have others who could take some more of her back court time.  Her season hitting percentage is .155 vs. .270 last year.

Jeff Huth wrote on September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm
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I don't know whether she is being asked to do too much. Before the season, McMahon said she wanted to be on the floor for all rotations and to become a complete volleyball player. She's committed to that. But it certainly will be worth monitoring to see how Kevin Hambly continues to use her in the rotation.

No doubt McMahon's hitting has been erratic so far. I think she's too good of a player not to step up her game. Her track record indicates she will.

Keep in mind, too, that McMahon spent virtually all of her first two college seasons at right-side hitter. She has far less experience on the left side, so I'm sure that transition is still a work in progress. But she definitely has shown she can do the job at outside hitter (just ask Arizona State).

And it's not just McMahon. As Hambly said this week, the offense overall needs to make strides if the Illini are to become the team he envisions. This weekend should be a good test of whether that emphasis in practice is paying off.

Jeff Huth wrote on September 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm
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Looks like we're out of questions so we'll end the chat.

See you next week, when Illinois is gearing up for the start of the Big Ten schedule

-- Jeff Huth