Tamas not playing 'what if' with Illini's postseason

Tamas not playing 'what if' with Illini's postseason

CHAMPAIGN — The NCAA Women's Volleyball Committee has released a top 10 in the latter part of the season for three straight years as a way to ramp up interest ahead of Selection Sunday for the NCAA tournament.

Those rankings don't necessarily hold true and fast through the end of the season, though. Just ask Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were projected as a top-four seed in last year's list, won out the rest of the regular season and somehow wound up at No. 5 and not a potential regional host before ultimately winning their second national championship in three years.

Illinois finds itself in a potentially similar situation. The Illini (22-3, 11-3 Big Ten) were in that No. 4 spot when the top-10 list was released Sunday and then held at No. 4 when the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll was published Monday.

"The story of caution is what happened to Nebraska," Tamas said. "It's great that we're there, but we're not relying on it. It's more about how we approach every day. We can get into the theory of what if, what if, what if. I'm more like, 'Hey, today's the day we get better. Let's see if we can do that, and we'll be a better team because of it.'"

Monday was an off day for the Illini. They'll get back to their one-day-at-a-time process today in preparation for a weekend of matches at Huff Hall, facing Rutgers on Friday and No. 7 Penn State on Saturday. Continuing the current seven-match winning streak — particularly with another top-10 victory — would only strengthen Illinois' postseason résumé.

That regional hosting sites are now tied into those top seeds makes a strong finish important. The same change also adjusted the required seating capacity, meaning a top-four-seeded Illini would be at Huff Hall until the Final Four if they kept winning.

Those changes are ones Tamas supports. When regional sites were picked randomly, situations like his time at Nebraska in 2015 happened. The Cornhuskers played Washington in Lexington, Ky., for a Final Four berth in front of a pretty sparse crowd.

"It was all 'Huskers fans and no one traveled from Washington," Tamas said. "It was great for us, but it wasn't a great environment for volleyball. Once they changed it to the top four seeds hosting, you get very large environments assuming that team's home crowd's going to show up, which they usually do. I think it's good for volleyball. It's more a reflection of your whole résumé for the year."

Tamas has his team focused on making efficient use of its time in the practice gym during the stretch run of the season. He doesn't intend to grind them through the week leading up to weekend matches. If the Illini simply take care of their business, there should be fewer surprises.

"Tournament playbecomes something of a different situation because it's the old one-and-done, but we've been there, done that," Tamas said. "We've learned our lessons from last year. We were close to making the Elite Eight, and hopefully we can make a further run this year.

"Right now we're on track to host at least the first two rounds. Hopefully we can hold on the rest of the next three weekends here, and then we'll be on track hopefully to host through the Final Four if we're lucky enough to do that."

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