LONG BEACH, Calif. — Kevin Hambly’s Illinois volleyball team defeated 18th-ranked Florida State 25-18, 25-23, 25-23 in its season-opening match Friday at the Long Beach State Mizuno Invitational.
“The fact that we got a win against a really good team, it speaks more of our potential as opposed to our performance, and I think over time we could be a good team,” Hambly said. “That’s what I see. We have a lot of ways to go and a lot of work ahead of us. I’m glad that it was over 3-0 and we didn’t extend it.”
The Illini lost their second match of the day, 16-25, 25-19, 25-22, 25-17 to Long Beach State.
Against the Seminoles, Jocelynn Birks, a redshirt sophomore, recorded 22 kills for Illinois, which received 11 kills and four blocks from redshirt freshman Maddie Mayers. Junior Liz McMahon added 11 kills, six digs and an ace.
“Jocelynn was really good, and Mayers was really good,” Hambly said. “At times, Lizzie was great as well. I’d like to get Ali (Stark) going; we need to get (Anna) Dorn going more. We’ve just got to get more offense.“
UI senior libero Jennifer Beltran posted 18 digs, Stark had 10 and Alexis Viliunas had nine. Viliunas registered 35 assists.
“When we were playing aggressively, they couldn’t score points against us, and that’s how we needed to play,” Hambly said. “When we were passive and giving them opportunities to score, they were tearing us up.”
After the Illini won the first two sets, the Seminoles gained some momentum in the third set, racing to a 14-9 lead. Illinois scored the next five points to tie the set behind Stark’s solid serving.
“Florida State was a cornered animal, and they started to fight harder than us,” Hambly said. “We’ve been committed that no one will outwork us, from January on, and we need to play that way. I thought that we were getting a little lackadaisical being up 2-0, and we’ve done that in the past, and I thought they turned it around pretty quick. There were some key people, like Beltran and Stark and Lizzie, all three of them from the back row, they started making some plays, and we started to be better. They started to work and compete, and we need to start getting more of that out of them for the whole match.
“We can’t take breaks. If we take breaks, that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll get exposed.”
Despite some breakdowns, Hambly liked what he saw in the season opener.
“As a coach, especially at this time of year, there’s a lot of stuff that you see that was not good. I will take a win, but I don’t really look at it as wins and losses. I didn’t do it last year; I didn’t do it the year before when we started 19-0; that’s not how I look at the game, I look at our performance, and I saw a lot of improvements that we could make.
“It lived up to my expectations. We were probably medium, but we have the potential to be great.”
The Illini started strong against Long Beach State, too, but couldn't sustain momentum from their first-set win.
McMahon led the UI attack with 18 kills while hitting ..350. Birks chipped in with 14 kills and seven digs.
Although Beltran recorded a match-high 16 digs, the 49ers dominated in this category, outdigging Illinois 61-39. Three LBSU players reached double-figures in digs. Combined with their 20 hitting errors, the Illini were limited to a .177 attack percentage.
Illinois outblocked the 49ers 13-9, with Mayers producing one solo block and six assists. Illini freshman Katie Stadick made her first collegiate appearance, starting at the other middle blocker spot. She replaced redshirt junior Anna Dorn, who is returning from knee surgery that kept her out of spring drills. Dorn played all three sets earlier Friday against Florida State.
Two other Illini made their collegiate debuts when the team fell behind in the fourth set. Freshman outside hitter Katie Roustio and sophomore middle blocker Kathryn Polkoff each saw action late, with Polkoff producing two block assists.
Illini cruise. Allison Stucky, Allie Osoba, Nicole Breece, Casey Conine, Megan Green and Jannelle Flaws each scored for Illinois in its 6-2 home victory against the College of Charleston.
The Illini scored five second-half goals.
In women’s cross-country:
Schneider victorious. Illinois’ Alyssa Schneider finished first in the 4-kilometer race, clocking 14 minutes, 24 seconds at the Illini Challenge, which was held at the UI Arboretum in Urbana.
In men’s cross-country:
Toepfer triumphs. UI senior Jannis Toepfer claimed the individual title, finishing the 6K race in 18:58 at the Illini Challenge.