How sweet it is for Illinois volleyball after win over Louisville

How sweet it is for Illinois volleyball after win over Louisville

CHAMPAIGN — Standing in an empty Huff Hall earlier this week, Ali Bastianelli started to feel goosebumps describing the electrifying atmosphere for an Illinois volleyball home match.

She and the rest of her Illinois volleyball teammates experienced the adrenaline rush of securing an NCAA tournament win in front of their passionate fans on Saturday night.

The best part?

They're not done yet.

Third-seeded Illinois fended off Louisville to the tune of a 25-22, 26-28, 25-17, 25-18 win in front of 3,754 fans at Huff Hall in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"We've talked about it all season about how we love Huff, and how we want to extend the season as long as we can," said Beth Prince, the Illini's redshirt junior outside hitter who compiled 10 kills against Louisville. "It's an awesome, awesome bonus to get here to play in our home gym with our home community here with us."

The satisfaction of a second straight Sweet 16 appearance didn't come easy, though. Louisville made the Illinois defense work for much of the first two sets before the Illini pulled away in the final two sets. The match featured 17 ties and five lead changes, but only one tie and no lead changes after the second set.

"We didn't quite play the game we wanted to off the bat," Illinois coach Chris Tamas said. "Not that we played poorly, but we were a touch or two off. Once we settled into that third set, it was almost smooth sailing."

Jacqueline Quade played a big reason why. The junior outside hitter collected six of her team-high 14 kills in the third set that saw the Illini play like how they have throughout most of 2018.

"We really just started playing our game," Quade said. "The first couple sets were not really us, and we had to battle. We got in our groove and took off from there."

Illinois collected a season-high 19 blocks against the Cardinals (22-9), stifling any sort of run by Louisville with their defensive fortitude at the net.

"It was all in our scout," Bastianelli said. "We knew what kind of hitters they had and we knew their tendencies. We did a good job of going after what we saw."

Illinois (30-3) extended its win streak to 15 matches and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 18th time in program history with Saturday night's triumph.

The fact next weekend's regional semifinal match against Marquette (28-6) will take place again at Huff makes it even sweeter.

"Huff is amazing," Prince said. "It's great that we have such an active community and students. I'll see them at a coffee shop on a random day and they're like, 'Hey, I was at your match.' It's amazing to have that feeling all the time."