NORMAL — A Saturday morning match gave Illinois the opportunity for an immediate bounce back after losing its Redbird Classic opener late Friday night against host Illinois State. And after shuffling his lineup more than ever before against the Redbirds, Illini coach Chris Tamas went back to the lineup that generated a pair of Top 25 wins against Tennessee to start the season.
The results were still mixed against Central Florida. Illinois was never thoroughly dominated like Illinois State did in the first set of its Friday victory, but the 14th-ranked Illini dropped their fourth straight match in a 25-21, 25-20, 22-25, 25-20 UCF victory.
“I think we put up a fight in all the sets,” Tamas said. “We’re just bleeding too many points in wrong times and giving up a five- or six-point run. You can’t do that against good teams. We’ve just got to figure out how to stop the bleeding. A lot of it just comes back to the basics and getting used to a lineup on the floor.”
Late Saturday night, Illinois finished the Redbird Classic on a high note against No. 7 Marquette, rallying for a 3-2 win. The Illini fell behind 0-2 before roaring back.
Jacqueline Quade had 21 kills and Megan Cooney had 16 in the 25-27, 12-25, 25-22, 25-21, 15-11 marathon.
In Ssturday's opener, Illinois (2-4) did manage to have better offensive balance against UCF (6-2) even if it didn’t mean a win. Senior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade led the way again with 21 kills and 13 digs, with Ashlyn Fleming (12 kills), Megan Cooney (nine) and Bruna Vrankovic (eight) providing a varied attack.
“I thought as the game went on, our attack just got better, but they’re a quality opponent,” Tamas said. “It was a good fight, but not good enough. We’ve just got to keep learning and keep moving forward.”
Vrankovic provided the breakout performance. The redshirt freshman subbed in for Kennedy Collins at opposite hitter after the first set and was a go-to option at the pin. The Split, Croatia, native played sparingly last weekend in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge in Iowa City, Iowa, in her Illinois debut after a nagging injury kept her out the opening weekend of the season. Vrankovic got more run Friday against Illinois State as Tamas played nearly every healthy, available player on his roster.
“We know she can play volleyball,” Tamas said. “We didn’t have her for a lot of the year last year, and she couldn’t practice with us either while we were fighting the eligibility battle. This year, it was fighting a nagging injury. Now that she’s a little bit healthier, it’s easier to throw her in there.”