Ask N-G beat writer Jeff Huth about the 2011 NCAA runners-up, who open the season at Dayton on Friday. He'll be chatting at 11 a.m. each Friday throughout the season. Submit question any time before or during the chat.
Welcome to the first Illini chat of the 2012 season. We'll get started in a few minutes. I see we already have several questions/comments, so we appreciate the interest.
Please, more info on Ali Stark. That was a job she did in the exhibition game.
Ali Stark was indeed impressive in the Alumni Event intrasquad scrimmage last Saturday. She belted a match-high 21 kills, hit .250 in 48 swings, and racked up 14 digs in a double-double performance. On a night when most Illini were up and down, Kevin Hambly called Stark the most consistent player on the floor.
Stark is a 6-foot-1 outside hitter from Mount Vernon, Iowa. Entering the season, she's one of three Illini expected to rotate at the two outside hitter positions along with Morganne Criswell and Jocelynn Birks.
Stark appeared in three matches early last season as a true freshman but then suffered a broken finger that sidelined her for the rest of the year. She was granted a medical redshirt and retains four seasons of eligibility.
Stark is one of the Illini's most versatile players, and as a left-hander presents a different look for opposing blockers.
Here's what Hambly had to say about Stark earlier this week: “She can do everything. Being a lefty, she brings a whole different dimension. She’s got a lot of game and is probably the most refined of the three.”
What's the probability that we may see a 6-2 offense run this year?
Keep up the good work!
That was the first question I asked Hambly when we sat down for an interview this week. With the arrival of freshman setter Alexis Viliunas, the 2011 Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year, he had previously raised that possibility.
However, Hambly indicated he will stick with a one-setter attack, with fifth-year senior Annie Luhrsen at the controls. He offered several reasons, including retaining the flexibility in switching personnel at outside hitter that he’ll have with one setter. In a 6-2, Viliunas would have played all rotations and hit from the back row.
“We looked at it and I don’t like it,” Hambly said. “Not because of the setters but just because of these young outsides. We don’t know what we’re going to get out of them, and I need to have subs. I need to have kids that I can move around.”
This decision, of course, depends on Luhrsen remaining injury-free and continuing to play at the high level she did last season in her first year as the Illini's starting setter.
It also has opened the door to Viliunas redshirting this season. Hambly said he is seriously considering that option, so entering the season-opening tournament at Dayton, he was not intending to play Viliunas.
How many scholarships are we likely to award for 2014? I'm a little confused. On the current roster, there are three juniors - Beltran, Jendryk and Abrahamovich. I understand that Jendryk is transferring after this year and I believe that Abrahamovich is a walkon. Have we awarded Orozco's scholarhip to anyone? What is the status of Conard's scholarship? It appears that most Big Ten schools have an impressive list of commits for 2014 and that they have pretty well picked the carcass clean of talented Illinois high school talent (six Big Ten schools have Illinois commits). We have four commits for 2013 and one already for 2015, but what about 2014?
It can get confusing, for sure, with redshirting decisions.
Here's what I know: In the Class of 2013, Illinois has three scholarship commitments. A fourth player, Danielle Davis of Bloomington Central Catholic, will be a preferred walkon but has not been promised scholarship aid.
The three scholarships will take the place of current seniors Erin Johnson, Annie Luhrsen and redshirt junior Jessica Jendryk, who will be graduating next spring and plans to enroll in graduate school at St. Louis University in the 2013-14 academic year.
In the Class of 2014, Hambly recently told me Illinois will offer one or two scholarships, depending on how he decides to utilize them. I had been under the impression that current freshman Julia Conard would be put on scholarship starting in the 2014-15 academic year. However, Hambly today told me that wouldn't necessarily happen. She could go on scholarship in 2013 and again in 2015.
The transfer of Jazmine Orosco to Pepperdine figures into all this, too. She was on track to graduate in 2014.
A number of factors seemingly have an impact in all this, and I need to become more familiar with all the intricacies. Hoping in the near future that Hambly will give me a tutorial..
Will Orozco be in the starting lineup for Pepperdine vs. her former school this weekend?
I don't know whether she will be in the starting lineup, but I read through Pepperdine's on-line media release for the Dayton tournament and it sure sounds like she definitely is available to play this weekend.
It certainly would be a noteworthy development. And it's good to hear that Orozco seemingly is past her post-concussion problems and ready to resume her playing career.
Another question just popped up: What is Colleen Ward doing these days? Thanks for doing this chat.
I will need to check on that and get back to you next week. Certainly Ward has the talent to continue her career as a pro overseas. It's unfortunate that a pro league for women's volleyball has never been able to catch on and sustain itself. Both Hambly and his wife, former Illini player Mary (Coleman) Hambly were involved in a now-defunct U.S. pro league for women.
Hello Jeff - - How many games will be needed to gauge the potential of the new hitters? (tough teams early on the schedule) LOVE LOVE LOVED Bartsch & Ward, and am very interested in how close we can get to replacing their offense. Do you think we'll know before we start Big 10 play? Thanks!
Illinois' difficult preconference schedule certainly will put the new outside hitters to the test and give us an idea of what we might expect from that group this season. For me, the most important thing to look for is whether they are making steady progress. I suspect there will be certain matches in which one or more of this trio struggles. Given their youth and inexperience at the college level, it's reasonable to expect that. But these were highly ranked recruits coming out of club and high school ball, and I don't think their talent is in question. It's just a matter of how soon it shows itself on a consistent basis. It also will be worth watching whether one or two emerge to the point where Hambly utilizes them full-time. By their performances, the players themselves ultimately will decide who is on the court the most.
Break down the three new/almost new outsides: Birks, Criswell, Starks. How are they different from each other in strengths and skills? Can you tell if any of them are further ahead than the others?
I asked Hambly that very question earlier this week, so we'll go to the expert for the answers.
Birks is a 6-foot-2 power hitter. She's most likely to draw Ooohs!!! from the fans with some of her hits. “She’s taller, longer, hits harder,” Hambly said. “She can go up and thunder some balls.”
He calls Criswell the most dynamic of the three, and someone Luhrsen will want to pay close attention to when it seems like she's on the start of a roll. “When she’s right, she can score points in bunches and is very explosive,” Hambly said.
As I referred to earlier, Stark is the most versatile. If not for the presence of Liz McMahon, she could be used as a right-side hitter. Stark also has setting skills.
Several questions, but I'll try to be brief:
How do the coaches create a game plan with no stats or video on the current version of the opposing teams?
Who do you think is the likely person to take over Rachel Feldman's position: Abrahamovich or Conard?
I think Birks and Stark are the likely starters for left side hitters. Do you agree, and do you think Criswell will get signficant playing time this weekend?
Have you seen any surprising strengths or weaknesses in practice?
Preparing a game plan in the preconference can be challenging. In the case of Illinois' season-opening opponent, Dayton, the Illini should have a pretty good idea. Not only did they play Dayton last season, but these teams have met every season since 2006. And Dayton has most of its players back from last season as well as a veteran coach, so the Illini have a pretty good idea of what they're going against.
Coaches also will call upon friends in the coaching fraternity for information on unfamiliar opponents. And again, if a team has a veteran coach (like Pepperdine, Illinois' second opponent this weekend), that can be helpful. Coaches typically have basic systems that they believe in and don't usually make dramatic changes from one season to the next.
Hambly has indicated that freshman Julia Conard will see action this season, so it appears she has the edge on succeeding Feldman.
I don't know that I would pick any of the outside hitters over the others at this point. Would rather just see how they perform and how this plays out. Of the three, it appears Birks has the highest ceiling. But, again, it's all about performance.
Regarding team strengths and weaknesses, the best test of that will be the regular season. Those matches will make most clear what Illinois does best and expose any areas in which the Illini need to shore up.
Is Liz McMahan staying at right side hitter (opposite), or might she move to outside hitter?
Liz McMahon is staying on the right side. No need to mess with a good thing. I suppose it's possible that before her career at Illinois is done, she could play at the outside hitter spot. The big development with McMahon is that Hambly has decided to play her in the back row this season. He believes she is ready for that and can handle it. If so, it will keep one of the Illini's most potent offensive weapons on the court for all six rotations, and lessen the pressure and burden on the young outside hitters. Fans who attended the Alumni Event intrasquad match saw how involved McMahon was in the attack. She ended up taking a match-high 56 swings.
How do the Illini's opponents for this w/e shapeup?
There's no doubt the Illini aren't exactly easing into the season.
Dayton was the unanimous selection to win the Atlantic-10 in a preseason poll of the league's coaches.The Flyers return three All-American, all but one starter and 11 of 12 players from the team that took Illinois to five sets last season before losing.
Pepperdine is ranked No. 11 in the preseason national coaches' poll. Although the Waves lost three four-year starters from an NCAA regional finalist, this a perennial power in the game, and returns an honorable-mention All-American and the West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year.
Ohio is picked to win the East Division of the Mid-American Conference’s East Division, as it has done every year since 2002. The Illini will need to try to control Kelly Lamberti., a returning All-MAC first-teamer.
Ward has signed a contract to play professionally in Italy.
Thanks for the info. We'll try to keep tabs on how Ward is doing and pass it along.
We'll wrap up the chat now. Thanks for the interest and all the questions. We'll do it again each Friday for as long as the Illini are playing volleyball this season.