Season of change for UI volleyball
The Illinois volleyball team plans to “Stuff Huff” in its Aug. 29 opener against Long Beach State.
Practice starts Aug. 9, and the Alumni Match will be held on Aug. 23.
Until then, some players are still on campus, getting in workouts by themselves.
Coach Kevin Hambly and his staff can’t be on hand for these offseason workouts, but the Illini are still working with the promise of the season’s start drawing closer.
In that vein, here’s a little something to tide you over until Illinois tries to stuff Huff.
Alexis Viliunas started all 33 matches at setter for the Illini in 2013. Her 1,220 assists were seventh in a Big Ten loaded with strong setters, and her 14 double-doubles were a team high.
Allison Palmer started all 34 matches at setter for Arizona State in the 2012 season, broke the Sun Devils’ single-season assist record with 1,482 in 128 sets and then sat out the 2013 season so she would be eligible immediately this fall at Illinois after transferring.
The setter staking her claim as the best during the spring? Well, that was 5-foot-7 sophomore McKenna Kelsay. She played in just four matches as a freshman and looked to be fighting for playing time as a defensive specialist heading into the spring before impressing Hambly with her play.
“She’s forcing our hand,” Hambly said of Kelsay. “It’s cool. It’s what I asked her to do. We’ll see, though. It’s all speculation since it was spring, but I’m excited about her.”
Speeding it up
Hambly considered his team one of the slowest in the Big Ten — at least offensively — last season. Don’t expect the same this fall.
The Illini installed an entirely new attack during spring practices. Having essentially the full squad on campus — freshman Brandi Donnelly was an early enrollee, and Palmer transferred in to start in January — helped Hambly make the switch then with time to fine tune things once practices start next Saturday.
“Actually, we’re going a lot quicker,” Hambly said, immediately correcting himself after saying his team was only getting “a little quicker.”
“When you make a big, systematic change, it’s hard to see that someone stood out because everyone has to figure out,” he continued. “Everyone changed. It’s cool. We’ve got to be uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for me because we’ve done well with the other system that we run, and this is a pretty big, drastic change, but I felt like the game has evolved a little bit and it was time.”
Hambly has gotten used to filling vacancies on his coaching staff in his time at Illinois, with several moving on to head coaching jobs of their own.
But with Dan Conners being named the UC Davis women’s head coach in mid-June, Hambly wanted to streamline the process of getting a new coach acclimated to the Illini program. Hambly put added emphasis on someone with experience at Illinois, and he got exactly that when Scott Leserman was named his new assistant July 9.
Leserman, who worked for Hambly as a graduate assistant and then volunteer assistant for two seasons, spent the last two years at Northwestern following a season at Loyola.
“The reality is I called Scott about somebody else because I thought Scott was going to be locked in up there at Northwestern,” Hambly said. “Once he said that he was considering it, I was in. It was done. That’s who I wanted. It had to go through the whole process, but that was the guy I wanted if it all worked out.”
Illinois recruit Jordyn Poulter helped the U.S. Women’s Junior National Team to a gold medal this month at the U20 NORCECA Continental Championship, tallying 17 assists, two kills, two blocks and an ace in the championship match win against Cuba.
Poulter, a 2015 recruit who committed in July 2012, not only won another international medal to go with her 2013 silver from the FIVB U18 World Championship in Bangkok, but she also experienced a 6.9-magnitude earthquake that struck southern Mexico and Guatemala during her time in Guatemala City.
Poulter and Team USA swept St. Lucia, Mexico and the Dominican Republic in three sets before doing the same against Cuba in the gold medal match, a 25-15, 25-22, 25-16 victory.
Around the B1G
Three players from Big Ten programs were on the U.S. Collegiate National Team that won the silver medal earlier this month at the European Global Challenge in Pula, Croatia. Purdue setter Val Nichol, Wisconsin libero Taylor Morey and Northwestern libero Caroline Niedospial helped Team USA to wins against Russia, Croatia (twice) and Adidas Midwest before losing to Slovenia for a second time in the championship match.
— Wisconsin libero/defensive specialist Victoria Ito left the Badgers last week with the intention to give up competitive volleyball. Ito, a News-Gazette honorable mention All-State selection out of Buffalo Grove, played in just two matches at Wisconsin in 2012 as a freshman and missed all of last season with an injury. She was set to miss the 2014 season with an injury as well before deciding to retire. The Badgers also lost Crystal Graff in April to a medical hardship after a series of injuries since the 2011 season.
— New Maryland coach Steve Aird — out of the Russ Rose coaching tree at Penn State — has been using the best hashtag of the offseason to drum up interest in his program, tacking on “#TerpDown4What” while tweeting on the recruiting trail.
A chance to be a head coach has pulled three assistants from Illini coach Kevin Hambly’s staff in the past four years. Here’s where they landed:
WHERE: St. Louis, women’s program (2011-present)
RECORD: 38-50, 23-20 Atlantic 10
OF NOTE: Recorded 136 wins in 12 seasons as head coach at Toledo before joining Kevin Hambly’s coaching staff. Assistant coach for 1992 U.S. Olympic bronze medal-winning women’s team.
AT ILLINOIS: 2009-10
WHERE: UC-Irvine, men’s program (2012-present)
RECORD: 43-18, 33-15 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation
OF NOTE: Led Anteaters to NCAA Championship in his first season — just the second coach in the 44-year history of NCAA men’s volleyball to accomplish that feat.
AT ILLINOIS: 2011
WHERE: UC-Davis, women’s program (2014-present)
OF NOTE: Played for four national titles as a member of the UCLA men’s team, winning NCAA Championships in 1998 and 2000.
AT ILLINOIS: 2012-13