Illinois earns another top 25 win

Illinois earns another top 25 win

SEATTLE — Illinois found itself in familiar territory Friday night, up 2-0 against a top 25 opponent. A week prior, the No. 11 Illini let that advantage slip before rallying to finish off Colorado State in five sets.

A strong start to the third set Friday against No. 21 Colorado made any more volleyball unnecessary. The Illini used that early lead to wrap up its 25-19, 26-24, 25-21 sweep on the first day of the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge at Alaska Airlines Arena on the University of Washington campus.

“I told them the best part of tonight was there was always a response,” Illinois coach Chris Tamas said. “Not everything is going to go your way in this game or any game for that matter in any sport. It’s how you respond to what just happened. …  I think it was good from a fact we had responses to any runs that they made, and we didn’t let that set two lull us to sleep.”

Beth Prince’s return certainly helped Illinois against the Buffaloes. The redshirt junior outside hitter missed the first three matches of the season with a shoulder injury, which forced the Illini to tinker with a different rotation with Prince unavailable.

Prince’s return set things back to the expected normal. She joined Jacqueline Quade as the second outside hitter, while Megan Cooney moved back to opposite after playing in Prince’s place last weekend in Colorado.

“Obviously having Beth back in the lineup helps kind of even some things out in terms of familiarity of positions,” Tamas said. “It just provides a little more stability. She knows that position well. Heading into last weekend, we had practiced the lineup three or four days before we head into it. It was like, ‘Here you go. We’ll try to patch it together.’ ”

Quade led the Illinois attack for the fourth straight match, finishing with 13 kills to go with six digs and three blocks against the Buffaloes. Prince and Cooney had nine kills apiece playing in their regular positions.

“Even though (Prince) maybe wasn’t her best tonight, I think she took some really good swings,” Tamas said. “Our right side block was good putting Megan back out there. Megan and Jordyn (Poulter) held their best hitter to negative, and I thought we played good defense around that.”

Poulter facilitated Illinois’ balanced attack with a match-high 35 assists. Ali Bastianelli (six blocks and six kills) and Caroline Welsh (11 digs) led Illinois defensively.

“We had 12 blocks in three sets — that’s a lot blocks against a good team,” Tamas said. “We were taking some chances making sure we were good on their outside hitters and leaving our left side blockers kind of one-on-one. The balls we didn’t block, I felt like we were in good defensive position.”

Illinois (4-0) will play its third top 25 opponent in a week’s time when it faces No. 13 Washington at 10 p.m. today. It’s a rematch from the second round of the 2017 NCAA tournament, which saw the Illini upset the Huskies to advance to the Sweet 16.