CHAMPAIGN — The final five regular-season matches for Illinois volleyball are all against Big Ten teams below the Illini in the league standings.
Of course, the Illini are also among eight conference schools with a losing Big Ten record after No. 8 Penn State swept No. 25 Illinois 25-15, 25-22, 25-18 on Friday night in front of 3,216 fans at Huff Hall.
“They’re a good team,” Illinois coach Chris Tamas said. “They have been for a long time. It’s one of those things where we were trying to mix around lineups based on where we are injury-wise. We’ve got to find that mix that works.”
Illinois (12-12, 7-8 Big Ten) needs to find it sooner rather than later.
The Illini get their next chance at 7 p.m. on Saturday when they host Rutgers (8-18, 2-13). Illinois owns a 10-1 series advantage against the Scarlet Knights and hasn’t lost to Rutgers since 1981.
Still, for a program vying for its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and 10th in the last 12 seasons, any win is needed now.
“Every match is a tough one,” Tamas said. “We don’t overlook anyone in this conference.”
Jacqueline Quade (11 kills), Diana Brown (30 assists) and Morgan O’Brien (24 digs) led the Illini, but the Nittany Lions (20-4, 13-2) proved too much in sweeping the season series.
“I actually liked a lot of the swings that we took, and I actually liked a lot of the plays we made,” Tamas said. “We just couldn’t hang in the rally enough to get it done.”