Illinois volleyball has 12 returnees from last season’s Final Four team. And on Friday, the Illini found out their opponents for the 2019 season when the schedule was released. Beat writer SCOTT RICHEY breaks down all 29 matches:
DATE, OPPONENT, TIME
Aug. 30, at Tennessee, 7 p.m.
The Vols went 26-6 last season and return kills leader and All-SEC pick Tessa Grubbs.
Sept. 1, vs. Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Home opener might be a tough ticket. Reserved season tickets are already sold out.
Sept. 6, vs. Washington*, 4 p.m.
Illini have won last two matches against Huskies, who return top two outside hitters.
Sept. 7, vs. Colorado*, 4 p.m.
Illinois and Colorado have eight newcomers each, yet still return several key players.
Sept. 13, at Illinois State, 7 p.m.
In-state showdown with Redbirds is first match in once-regular series since 2009.
Sept. 14, vs. Central Florida+, 10 a.m.
The bulk of the Knights’ sets will likely go to McKenna Melville (504 kills in 2018).
Sept. 14, vs. Marquette+, 7:30 p.m.
Golden Eagles probably have revenge in mind after Illini win in last year’s Sweet 16.
Sept. 20, vs. Pacific^, 11 a.m.
Easy storylines here given Chris and Jen Tamas and Ashlyn Fleming played for Tigers.
Sept. 21, vs. Loyola Marymount^, 8 a.m.
Lions are seventh 2018 NCAA tourney team on UI’s doozy of a nonconfernce slate.
Sept. 27, vs. Nebraska, 7 p.m.
Big Ten opener is a rematch of last year’s national semifinals. Match of the year?
Sept. 28, vs. Iowa, 7 p.m.
Former Illini middle blocker Vicki Brown was named Iowa’s interim coach on May 20.
Oct. 4, at Indiana, 6 p.m.
Balanced Hoosiers took Illinois to five sets during last year’s match in Bloomington.
Oct. 5, at Purdue, 2 p.m.
Top rivalry on the schedule? Two UI wins last year gave Illini 47-41 all-time edge.
Oct. 9, vs. Minnesota, 7 p.m.
Both teams starting over at setter with Jordyn Poulter and Sam Seliger-Swenson gone.
Oct. 12, vs. Indiana, 7 p.m.
IU banking on coach Steve Aird working the same rebuild magic he did at Maryland.
Oct. 18, at Wisconsin, 7 p.m.
Anticipation should be high for this one after Illini took down Badgers twice in 2018.
Oct. 19, at Minnesota, TBA
Five Gophers topped 200 kills last year led by Stephanie Samedy (359). All return.
Oct. 23, at Penn State, TBA
No current Illini has won in Happy Valley, with last win at Rec Hall coming in 2014.
Oct. 26, vs. Ohio State, 7 p.m.
Buckeyes went 12-20 last year but return a weapon in 6-6 opposite Vanja Bukilic.
Nov. 1, vs. Michigan, 7 p.m.
Count on sophomore outside hitter Paige Jones becoming UM’s new go-to option.
Nov. 2, vs. Michigan State, 7 p.m.
Basically resetting roster led to 17-16 season last year in East Lansing. Expect more.
Nov. 6, at Iowa, 7 p.m.
Illini have lost just 14 times ever to Iowa and are 22-2 in series in last 15 seasons.
Nov. 9, at Michigan, TBA
Last three matches against the Wolverines (two Illini wins) have gone five sets.
Nov. 15, vs. Penn State, 7 p.m.
Jacqueline Quade set her career high with 29 kills in last year’s monster home win.
Nov. 16, vs. Rutgers, 7 p.m.
Scarlet Knights haven’t won a single set against the Illini since they joined Big Ten.
Nov. 22, at Maryland, TBA
Beth Prince and Megan Cooney had 38 kills combined in last year’s series sweep.
Nov. 23, at Ohio State, TBA
Morgan O’Brien had one of her 10 20-plus dig performances in 2018 against OSU.
Nov. 27, vs. Northwestern, 7 p.m.
None of the current Illini have ever lost to Northwestern in six possible matches.
Nov. 30, at Northwestern, TBA
Nia Robinson (394 kills) and then the next seven Wildcats’ kills leaders are back.
*Big 10/Pac-12 Challenge, at Iowa City, Iowa; +Redbird Classic, at Normal; ^Bulldog Brawl, at Indianapolis