Freshman lifts Illini volleyball

Freshman lifts Illini volleyball

CHAMPAIGN — Led by one of the youngest players on the court, the Illinois volleyball team kicked off its season — albeit unofficially — with a victory.

Freshman Michelle Strizak had 10 kills in 14 swings as the Illini beat a team of alumni 25-22, 25-15, 25-13 on Saturday night at Huff Hall.

“I thought we started out very tentative, very nervous,” coach Kevin Hambly said. “We hadn’t seen that the whole preseason, but I expect that given the fans at Huff. Tonight was good for understanding how things are supposed to go and getting the nerves and rust off. I thought we got better with every set.”

Illinois started the match slowly as the alumni raced to a 5-3 lead before the Illini roared ahead by winning 15 of the next 20 points.

The Illini committed three errors over the final two sets.

Sophomore setter Alexis Viliunas had a double-double, dishing out 11 assists to go along with 10 digs.

The alumni got a double-double from Hillary Haen, who had 18 assists and 12 digs. Colleen Ward had seven kills to lead the alumni, but it took her 30 swings to get there.

Liz McMahon had eight kills, and Jocelynn Birks and redshirt freshman Maddie Mayers added six apiece for Illinois, which opens the season Friday night at the Long Beach State Invitational in California.

“The freshmen got to play with pressure on them,” Hambly said. “Strizak was ridiculous, hitting .714 and doing a good job. I thought it was good, getting them all out there and taking some cuts.”

In track & field:
Green takes fifth in 400. One current and one former Illinois track and field athlete each placed in the top five in events at the Pan American Junior Championships late Friday in Medellin, Colombia.

Illini sophomore Juan Paul Green, who earlier in the day won his semifinal section, finished fifth in the men’s 400-meter finals in 47.08 seconds. Sophomore Morolake Akinosun, who transferred to Texas this summer, fell short of medaling in the women’s 100 by placing fourth in 11.47.

On Saturday, Akinosun ran a 24.09 in the women’s 200 semifinals to advance to the finals.

In women’s gymnastics:
Illini earn high marks. The Illini women’s gymnastics team and four of its individuals earned Scholastic All-America honors for the 2012-13 academic year, the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women announced.

Senior Elise Gill, an industrial engineering major, received the award for the third time after recording a 3.84 grade-point average. Other Illini honored included junior Sarah Fiedler (accounting, 3.57), sophomore Nikki McGarel (community health, 3.67) and freshman Tori Fujinami (electrical engineering, 4.0)

As a team, Illinois was cited for its 3.3 GPA.

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