Next stop: Final Four!

Next stop: Final Four!

ABOVE: Illinois junior Caroline Welsh celebrates on the court with her teammates after the Illini's four-set victory over Wisconsin in Saturday's NCAA Elite Eight match at Huff Hall in Champaign. By Stephen Haas/The News-Gazette

CHAMPAIGN — Start figuring out travel plans to Minneapolis, Illinois volleyball fans.

The Illini are Final Four bound after Saturday afternoon's electric 25-19, 15-25, 25-22, 25-23 victory against Big Ten rival Wisconsin in front of a Huff Hall crowd literally packed to the rafters of the nearly century-old building.

Just three other Illinois volleyball teams have advanced this far in the NCAA tournament. Mike Hebert coached back-to-back national semifinalist squads in 1987 and 1988. Kevin Hambly was at the helm for the 2011 team that finished as NCAA runners-up.

Now Chris Tamas adds his name to the list — in just his second season in Champaign. Saturday's win was just another step on the defying and exceeding expectations path the Illini have carved out the last two years.

The 2017 season featured a Sweet 16 appearance and defeat in what's a regular roadblock for the Illini.

ABOVE: Illinois sophomores Kylie Bruder, left, and Morgan O'Brien work to cut the net after the Illini's four-set victory Saturday over Wisconsin in the NCAA Elite Eight. Stephen Haas/The News-Gazette

Illinois cleared that particular hurdle Friday with a convincing sweep of No. 14-seed Marquette. All that stood in the way was sixth-seeded Wisconsin, and Illinois put together the winning combination to take the season series series from the Badgers after each team pulled off a road win in the regular season.

Next up for Illinois is the trip north. The Illini (32-3) will play Nebraska in the Final Four on Thursday at the Target Center.

Four wins down. Two to go.

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