Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Illinois' Jacqueline Quade (7) an Nebraska's Jazz Sweet (12) in a NCAA Volleyball Match at Huff Hall in Champaign on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019.Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Illinois' Jacqueline Quade (7) an Nebraska's Jazz Sweet (12) in a NCAA Volleyball Match at Huff Hall in Champaign on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019.

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CHAMPAIGN — Jacqueline Quade started thinking about life after graduation this summer.

She had options. Professional volleyball was certainly on the table for last year’s First Team All-American outside hitter. So was putting her soon-to-be-earned degree from the Gies College of Business to good use.

What Quade has really enjoyed in her time at Illinois, though, is life as a student-athlete. That put graduating in December and transferring to take advantage of an extra season of eligibility playing beach volleyball on the table.

Summer visits to the West Coast firmed up Quade’s decision, and she’ll continue her athletic career at UCLA for the spring beach season. Not before finishing up her final season with No. 17 Illinois (8-5, 3-1 Big Ten), of course, which continues at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Huff Hall with a Top 25 match against No. 6 Minnesota (10-2, 4-0).

“I will say I really love the balance right now of still being a student and having volleyball,” Quade said. “I really do enjoy both. That was something that really appealed to me just because going pro, a lot of people do say it’s lonely. All you do is volleyball and recovery, which is great, and I still could see myself doing that eventually. But this is the only time I could go do that thing because once my five years is up, it’s up.”

Quade made an informal trip to UCLA during the Fourth of July weekend since she was already in California on vacation. An official visit came a couple weeks later, and the Fort Wayne, Ind., native also visited Long Beach State and Washington before deciding on the Bruins as her next destination.

Picking UCLA didn’t come without a little hesitation on Quade’s part, though. Her beach volleyball experience includes playing in eighth grade and then during the summers for fun. The Bruins have been ranked in the top 10 nationally every season since the program started in 2013 and won their second straight national championship this past May under coach Stein Metzger.

Still, Quade is ready to embrace the challenge of a new team and new sport.

“That’s going to be a big learning curve for me, which I’m actually really excited about,” she said. “They have been the best beach program in the country the past few years, so to go there and learn from those girls and those coaches, I’m really excited about it.”

Illinois coach Chris Tamas sees Quade’s game being a fit for the beach. The 6-foot-2 outside hitter played six rotations full time last season and is doing so again this fall. Last year it meant leading Illinois and the Big Ten (while ranking sixth nationally) in kills per set and earning All-Big Ten and All-American honors. Quade set career highs in kills (560), digs (254) and aces (32) in 2018.

“On the sand, it’s only you and one other person,” Tamas said. “She’s got length and athleticism, so she’s able to cover a lot of court. She’s had the last (two) years playing six rotations with us, so she’s got ball control experience. A lot of beach volleyball is being able to read the game and being able to kind of select some shots.

“She’s been developing her shot work over the course of the year. I was joking with her while we were practicing like, ‘Oh, UCLA’s going to love that one.’ She does great, and I think her game’s going to translate well to the beach.”

The volume of work Quade regularly gets in a match for Illinois will help her on the beach, too, where she’s the only attacking option. She’s getting, on average, 50.8 swings per match this season after averaging 39.7 per match in 2018.

“A lot of times the transition is tough for people because they’re not used to touching the ball that much,” Quade said. “For me, since this year and last year I’ve been playing six rotations, I’m used to the volume. Most teams are going to serve me the ball. I’m going to have to take a lot of swings.

“As an outside, you do have to play all facets of the game, which beach is fairly similar. You have to do everything. I’m hoping that experience will give me a leg up and then just learning once I get there.”

Quade will leave for UCLA in late December and then get started on both her beach career and a master’s in educational leadership with a focus on management and sports. That’s put a tangible end date on the end of her Illinois career.

“It is a weird thing to think about and another thing that hasn’t really hit me yet,” Quade said. “Everything we’re doing, it’s kind of like, ‘This is the last time I’m going to do this and this.’ ... I’m excited. I’ve been in the Midwest my whole life, so I’m excited for something new and a change.”

Quade and Tamas had a lengthy conversation about what was next for her after Illinois. The Illini coach sees UCLA as a great opportunity for Quade to further her education and keep playing.

“She’s excited to go there,” Tamas said. “Not too excited — she still wants to do well in her last season here — but it just fit for her and what she wants to do in life. It’s great that she has that opportunity to do so.”

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).