LIVE! Stuff Huff
That's it for me LIVE! from Huff Hall for Illinois' "Stuff Huff" season-opening win against Long Beach State. Be sure to check out Saturday's News-Gazette and online at IlliniHQ.com for more from the game.
Illinois (1-0) will be back in action at 10 a.m. Saturday against Southern Illinois and finish off the Illini Classic with a 7:30 p.m. match against North Carolina. The LIVE! Report will return for the match against the Tar Heels.
End of third set, 8:35 p.m.
— Early Illinois lead turned out to be way too much for Long Beach State. Illini win the third set 25-15 and get the sweep.
— Two things really stood out as the Illini wrapped things up. Liz McMahon was almost untouchable hitting the from outside. She found holes in Long Beach's defense and exploited them for some huge kills. And sophomore Katie Stadick, at least through one match, looks like she will be giving the Illini another really strong middle blocker. She played great defense and held her own in the attack, too.
— OK, there's a third. Defense is going to be a strong suit for Illinois this year. Solid up front. Same thing in the back. It will only help as the Illini get deeper into their tough 2014 schedule.
End of second set, 8:03 p.m.
— Nice stay on the service line from Allison Palmer helps Illinois take a 2-0 lead. Illini win second set 25-21.
— The second set was a rollercoaster, though. Illinois used the momentum it built in its comeback to win the first set to take the early lead in the second. Then the Illini and Long Beach State just traded runs back and forth. On the bright side, it shows Illinois can battle when trailing. On the other hand, play was a little inconsistent (for both teams).
— Morganne Criswell, who struggled early in the first set, was playing much better in the second. Her passing was crisper, and she finished attacks better. Having a third hitter as strong as Criswell (when she's on her game) is a huge bonus for the Illini.
— Alexis Viliunas delivered what will probably be the funniest moment of the match, even though it was unintentional. The junior setter was hustling to save an attack from Long Beach and took the ball off her face. The only thing she could do was laugh, and she did.
— Illinois Athletics (@IlliniAthletics) August 30, 2014
End of first set, 7:34 p.m.
Rapid fire observations seemed to work well in my first LIVE! Report from the intrasquad scrimmage, so we'll stick with it for now.
— Illinois win first set 25-21. Great late comeback for the Illini. Morganne Criswell kill, Katie Stadick block, Allison Palmer kill and Criswell/Stadick block to end it.
— I think the most notable thing so far is the energy level the Illini are showing. The intrasquad scrimmage was flat. There's no other way to put it. It's about a 180 degree turn tonight.
— As expected, Illinois' defense was strong. That includes up front with nice blocks from Stadick (who was kind of a revelation with the ground she covered and block she put up) and Ali Stark and in the back row with Brandi Donnelly and Danielle Davis keeping a lot of balls alive.
— Illinois' right side attack is going to be a real strength this year. Liz McMahon, of course, is a threat any time she gets set, but Stark's emergence as a second hitter on that side (and as a lefty) gives the Illini a different look.
Game time, 7:00 p.m.
We're about to get going at Huff. Illinois vs. Long Beach State in the Illini Classic. I'll have more updates after the first set when I've seen a little game action.
— Scott Richey (@srrichey) August 29, 2014
Pregame, 6:54 p.m.
So apparently the band won't be at Huff until tomorrow night's match against North Carolina (via one of my top Twitter followers Dan Bolsen). So I'm not exactly sure who the remaning bleacher spots are for on the South end. Really big student presence, though. They've creeped up into the "upper bowl" as it were.
Pregame, 6:48 p.m.
OK, got a quick correction. The Spike Squad (Illinois' student section) won't be filling the South stands completly. It looked like they were trying to but realized that final spot is reserved. Some live music from the UI band perhaps?
Pregame, 6:45 p.m.
Crowd is already significantly larger than last Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage. Spike Squad has taken up three-fourths of new bleachers at the South end of Huff Hall and filling up the rest, while their section of bleachers on the West side is full.
Both giant metal fans are (thankfully) working tonight on the West side (i.e. the ones above me). Still warm in Huff, that won't change, but the fans do make something of a difference.
Pregame, 6:32 p.m.
The rotation for the Illini will probably look something like this ...
Left side: Jocelynn Birks and Morganne Criswell
Middles: Anna Dorn and Katie Stadick
Right side: Liz McMahon and Ali Stark
Setters: Alexis Viliunas and Allison Palmer
Libero: Brandi Donnelly
Defensive specialist: Danielle Davis (playing the back row for Criswell)
— Scott Richey (@srrichey) August 29, 2014
Pregame, 6:17 p.m.
The Illini Classic actually got underway at 4 p.m. today with a match between Southern Illinois and North Carolina. The Tar Heels got the sweep, winning 25-18, 25-18, 25-23. Consider me not surprised.
Even less surprising is that UNC's All-American right side hitter Chaniel Nelson hit .304 and led the Tar Heels with 12 kills. Nelson missed the 2013 season with an injury and was the one UNC player Illinois coach Kevin Hambly specifically pointed out.
On an entirely different note, I can hardly believe I've been here nearly a half hour and haven't commented on the pregame music yet. That might be a sign, though. "No Church in the Wild" from "Watch The Throne" has been the highlight, and, well, that's about it.
Pregame, 6:14 p.m.
In addition to Illinois volleyball being ranked the 17th most popular Division I program on Twitter in the nation, a couple of Illini commits also had a pretty good week. Jordyn Poulter and Alison Bastianelli — 2015 verbal commits — both made USA Today's All-USA Preseason High School Volleyball Team.
Poulter, a setter/right side hitter from Colorado, was named to the First Team. If the Illini stick with the 6-2 rotation they switched to for this season, Poulter will fit right in. She was named "Best Setter" last month after the U.S. Junior National Team won gold at the NORCECA U-20 Continental Championships, and she led her Eaglecrest High School team in assists, aces and blocks last year.
Bastianelli, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker from Michigan, was named to the Second Team.
What stands out about USA Today's list is the number of future Big Ten players. Purdue and Nebraska had one commit apiece on the First Team. Wisconsin had two Second Team commits and Nebraska and Minnesota one each, and Wisconsin and Michigan had a commit apiece on the Third Team.
There were also several uncommitted players on USA Today's list, and I wouldn't be surprised if several of them found their way to a Big Ten program.
Pregame, 6:02 p.m.
About an hour away from the Illini's season opener against Long Beach State and the "Stuff Huff" promotion. Not much of a crowd right now, but why would there be? Orange-clad students have already started to fill in, though, and the two fans in Long Beach colors are going to be woefully outmanned tonight.
Tweeted out a couple of volleyball-related items this week. Even tried to post one of them on my new blog but ended up crashing our brand new website instead — twice. So you'll get them here in the LIVE! report instead.
— Lizzie McMahon (@lizmcmahon14) August 29, 2014
USA Volleyball released the most popular Division I women's volleyball teams (as far as Twitter followers) go, and Illinois and its @IlliniVBall account came in ranked 17th. Several Big Ten teams made the Top 25, including Nebraska and defending national champs Penn State coming in at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.
Welcome to the second LIVE! report for Illinois volleyball. The Illini will open the 2014 season tonight against Long Beach State. Beat writer Scott Richey (that's me) will be providing updates throughout the match on his thoughts — like on tonight's pregame music selection — and more observations once things get going on the court.