Illini's Quade looking to unwrap a win in first NCAA tourney game

Illini's Quade looking to unwrap a win in first NCAA tourney game

SEATTLE — Illinois volleyball player Jacqueline Quade turns 20 today. She already got her present from her parents, Jennifer and Rick, who came through with a Kindle.

The present she wants to give herself? A win in the NCAA tournament tonight.

The Illini (21-10) open against Hawaii at Alaska Airlines Arena. To beat the Rainbow Wahine (20-7) for just the second time in 10 tries, Illinois will need a big performance from Quade. The sophomore led the team in kills this season.

Her parents will be there. They travel to all of her matches.

"I was their youngest" of five, Quade said. "They are empty-nesters now. It's really nice to have them there all the time."

Quade is making her first NCAA tournament appearance. The team didn't qualify her freshman year.

"I'm really excited," Quade said. "It's a childhood goal coming true."

She wants an extended stay. The winner of tonight's match will face the winner of Washington-Long Island on Saturday.

Quade and her teammates aren't looking past the opening match.

"It's similar to the Big Ten season when we have matches Friday and Saturday that are both tough matches," Quaade said. "If you don't have your full attention on Friday, it's not going to go well."

Playing on the road adds to the excitement.

"Honestly, it's kind of fun," Quade said. "I definitely would have preferred to play at Huff, but we are glad we're going to a pretty cool place. A new experience. There's definitely an upside to it."

The good news: Hawaii has to travel too.

"It's a pretty fair matchup," Quade said.

Hawaii went 14-2 in the Big West. Illinois was 12-8 in the powerhouse Big Ten.

Working with first-year coach Chris Tamas, Quade thrived in her second season.

"It's been a pretty fun year," Quade said. "Sophomore year is always a little tough because everybody know you now and they know what you want to do."

Quade bought in to Tamas' philosophy and style.

"It's a good change, but definitely a big change," Quade said. "It was an adjustment year for all of us.

"Chris knows so much about volleyball. We were very welcoming to him. He has a very strong will to win."

Tamas has been impressed with Quade.

"Jackie has been great for us," he said. "She's been taking some really good swings as of late. With any hitter, you're looking for a couple of things. You're looking for power. You're looking for quick decision making. She's really developed into a nice all-around player. For as young as she is, she's showing a lot of maturity in the position."

Quade and the Illini got some preseason motivation when they were picked ninth in the Big Ten. They finished tied for fifth.

"It was up in the air how we were going to do this year," Quade said. "It provided a good opportunity with nine new freshmen and a whole new coaching staff. There's a lot of room for growth, a lot of potential."

The season prepared the Illini for the tournament. They could go on a long run.

"We're getting better at the right time," Quade said. "All our pieces are starting to fall together."