Best team on campus plays at Huff Hall

Best team on campus plays at Huff Hall

They won't brag. Or taunt. Or gloat.

They are too nice for that.

So, I will do it for them.

The best team on the Illinois campus, the one you must see, plays at Huff Hall.

If you are free this weekend — and you know you are — hop over to the House Mike Hebert Built. Three matches against good teams for the nation's eighth-ranked volleyball team.

Sure, parking at Huff on Friday and Saturday might be a bit of a challenge. But the weather is supposed to be stunning (sunny, highs in the 80s), and you need the steps. Park and walk.

The timing fits perfectly with the Illinois football schedule, too.

Volleyball opens at noon Saturday against Lipscomb. Then, Lovie Smith's Illini kick off at 2:30 p.m., and that game should be long over by the time volleyball hosts Creighton at 7 p.m.

Get a slice of pizza and a glass of your favorite beverage (caffeine free Diet Pepsi for me) and you've got yourself a solid weekend.

Not convinced? The players have a sales pitch.

"It's super fun, first and foremost, and it's insanely competitive," junior outside hitter Beth Prince said. "This team is a new thing for Illinois volleyball. We're transitioning and we're getting better every day."

Second-year coach Chris Tamas might be putting together a special season. The kind folks will be talking about years from now.

Tamas is a "one match at a time" kind of guy. He isn't looking past Friday's Illini Classic opener against Northern Iowa.

He will be thrilled to hear his team is thinking about the task at hand. Only.

"We do take it one day at a time," Prince said. "While yes, I think there is potential that can be realized, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves and think too far in advance."

 

Heads held high

The players are proud about what they have accomplished. And their place in the campus sports hierarchy.

"As a student-athlete community, we're all pretty good about supporting each other all the time," Prince said. "It's great to have success for the university, but I don't think any team's out to get at another team. We feel support from other teams, and I hope they feel that from us as well.

"Every single team, that's their goal: to bring pride and joy to this awesome place."

The players hear about it on campus.

"It is cool having professors recognize who you are," senior setter Jordyn Poulter said.

What other team is close?

Illinois soccer has already pulled off a major upset at Duke. Janet Rayfield's program is pointing in the right direction after recent struggles.

Football? Not there yet. The team is 2-0 for the second consecutive season, but that turned into 2-10 in 2017. Fans and the media need to see a win or two against teams Illinois isn't favored to beat. Saturday's Soldier Field game against South Florida provides a chance to impress. But even if the football team reaches the postseason, it will be far behind volleyball in terms of national significance.

Volleyball is a big deal in the Big Ten, the home of defending national champion Nebraska. The conference is again loaded this year.

"I love that Illinois is known for its volleyball program," Prince said. "And I love that this group and this staff is contributing to that every single day. It's something that we're earning. We work really hard."

 

If you build it, will they come?

Talk is ongoing of a new downtown Champaign facility that will house a proposed hockey team. Volleyball would be a primary tenant, too.

That might mean leaving Huff, which Tamas and past coaches have long praised for the home-court advantage it delivers to Illinois.

"Illinois volleyball is a big deal here (in Huff)," Prince said. "I think it would be hard to lose Huff because Huff is so special, but I think with the Tamas era beginning, maybe it's a good time to do something like that.

"I'd be OK with it. I think it could be really cool to grow the game in general."

It will be hard to replicate Huff at Arena X.

"Hopefully, it would just be bigger," Prince said. "Hopefully we could pack the new place as much as we can pack Huff. It would just be like Huff on steroids."

 

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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