Back home in Indiana

Back home in Indiana

CHAMPAIGN — Indiana fans will have to watch one of their own hammer shots from the outside-hitter position for three rotations when Illinois takes on the Hoosiers today inside University Gym in Bloomington, Ind. 

Next, those same fans will watch three more rotations from another in-state product. 

Jacqueline Quade, a Fort Wayne, Ind. native, has been a terminator for the Illini this season. The sophomore leads Illinois with 146 kills, averaging 3.74 per set. 

Beth Prince, a native of Avon, Ind., has done much the same. 

A regular in the rotation for the first time this season as a redshirt sophomore, Prince moved from opposite to outside hitter after Illinois’ first tournament of the season and has produced. 

She set a new career-high with 25 kills against Colorado and put down 19 kills in Saturday’s comeback, five-set victory against Missouri State.

Quade and Prince will both play pivotal roles as Illinois (9-2) transitions to the Big Ten portion of its schedule. That begins with the 6 p.m. match today against the Hoosiers (11-1).

“They know the pressures that go along with this, and they’ve been consistent,” Illinois coach Chris Tamas said of his pair of outside hitters. “That’s probably the best word. We talk about being consistent. It’s good that we have lots of good matches, but we have to be able to be consistent in all these things — otherwise the roller coaster doesn’t get you very far. Your highs are highs and lows are lows and it’s not going to be a fun year.”

Quade earned All-Big Ten Freshman honors last season after finishing with 304 kills. The 6-foot-2 outside hitter was thrown in the mix early as a six-rotation player, but was backed off to three rotations where she played more consistently. With Michelle Strizak’s graduation, though, the Illini needed an outside hitter to play all six this fall.

“Last year everything was new,” Quade said. “This year everything’s more comfortable. It allows me to play a lot looser. That mental improvement and experience has helped a lot.”

Illinois’ offensive improvements across the board have helped both Quade and Prince, who have 146 and 112 kills, respectively, through 11 matches.

Better passing gives setter Jordyn Poulter more options. Her ability to work the Illini middles into the attack more — Ali Bastianelli is third on the team with 107 kills — opens up more of the court for the outside hitters.

“A lot of times I’m one-on-one,” Quade said facing about the opposing block. “Sometimes there’s no block at all. People are definitely holding with our middles, which makes everything so much easier for our pins. That’s been really awesome and made it a lot easier to score in system.”

Illinois has been effective out of system, too. That falls on Quade and Prince, who get set the majority of those balls and face a stronger block because the defense knows it’s coming, too.

“I think we’ve worked a lot on out-of-system sets in practice, and it’s given all the hitters — especially Jacqueline — more confidence in game situations,” Poulter said. “Beth takes big rips on out-of-system balls, and she has a good shot down the line. When we’re out of system or in system, that’s a good shot to have.”

Steady production from the outside hitters in nonconference play— Quade has finished in double figures in kills in nine of 11 matches — is one thing. The challenge to be consistent intensifies in the Big Ten starting against the Hoosiers.

But Prince said she sees Illinois’ steady improvement from the opening weekend and a tournament title in Montana to this past weekend’s tournament title in Missouri as a reason to remain excited about what the Illini can accomplish.

“We had to work and had to figure out hard situations,” Prince said of the nonconference slate. “I think it definitely prepared us for the Big Ten. As a group we really showed some heart and something new (with the comeback win against Missouri State).

“Last year sometimes we would struggle in situations like that, so I think it was good early on to see we could come back from that. It showed to us and proved to us something we’ve been saying we could do. We proved that to ourselves and to everybody, I guess, getting a win like that.”