Lions to Get a Taste of Champaign
After a hard-fought victory over Wisconsin in Rec Hall on Wednesday, Penn State heads to Illinois’ Huff Hall for an 8 p.m. ET match this evening against the Illini (16-6, 7-4 in the B1G). Illinois has lost its last two matches, but against top teams — 3-1 on Oct. 21 to No. 7 Nebraska, and 3-2 to Minnesota on Wednesday in Minneapolis. Overall, the Illini are hitting .286, led by 6-2 So. OH Jaqueline Quade with 3.37 kills/set, 6-3 RS So. OH Beth Prince with 3.09 kills/set, and 6-3 Jr. MB Ali Bastianelli with 2.92 kills/set (but a .427 hitting %!!). Bastianelli ranks #1 in NCAA D1 in blocking with 1.79 blocks/set — one reason why the Illini lead the B1G with 3.00 blocks/ set (9th in D1)
Penn State leads the all-time series with Illinois, 44-10, including a sweep this season on September 29th in Rec Hall.
The View from Illinois
Courtesy of FightingIllini.com
Last Time Out
The Illinois volleyball team gave No. 5 Minnesota all it could handle, before falling in a five-set (25-22, 25-18, 25-18, 25-20, 11-15) heartbreaker on Wednesday night in Maturi Pavilion.
The Illini were paced by redshirt-freshman Beth Prince with a team-high 18 kills, with sophomore Jacqueline Quade posting her second double-double of the season with 13 kills and 12 digs. Freshman Tyanna Omazic had a career night with a career-high 10 kills and equaled a career-high with nine blocks.
Junior Jordyn Poulter notched her seventh double-double of the season and 17th of her carer with 49 assists and 12 digs, while freshman Morgan O’Brien registered a career-high 24 digs. Sophomore Annika Gereau joined the duo in double figure digs with 10 on the night.
Q&A with Talking Head
We’re speaking today with Talking Head, who played D1 volleyball and has coached the sport for many years.
DigNittany: Before we get to Illinois, your thoughts on the Wisconsin match and overall thoughts on the team.
Talking Head: As Coach Rose said in the post-match press conference, it was a typical Big Ten battle. There were really no surprises: we were who we were, and they were who they were. Their strengths were in the middle, where they were effective, and their weaknesses were their inability to serve the ball in, and serve the ball tough, and struggles at the pins. Our strengths were Haleigh Washington, and Kendall White, and finding two other hitters, which we seem to do almost every match. In this case it probably wasn’t Simone Lee and Ali Frantti as much as it has been for most matches, but it certainly was Nia Reed and Heidi Thelen. I think its the general consensus of people who understand the physicality of the game — you need three hitters.
For Penn State, this season, Haleigh Washington has been one of those three — match-in and match-out. Go to this page on the Penn State site, and look at her statistics, match-by-match. She has been playing at a phenomenal level all season long. Without a doubt, it’s a testament to her teammates, and the coaches’ game plans, but the kid is dominating, and playing at a very high level in almost every skill — serving, blocking, moving left-to-right, and obviously offense. And she’s hitting well everywhere on the court. Her movement is much more fluid this year compared to last year. She is closing blocks, and is such a force on the court.
But back to my earlier point, we are who we are. We have a varied offense. Almost every match we have three players who step up on offense. Our serving is relentless, and we don’t make a lot of errors on our serve. Wisconsin, for example, has 181 service errors this season, with 67 aces (114 more errors than aces) compared to 121 service errors for Penn State, with 103 aces (18 more errors than aces). We don’t have a Micha Hancock (who does?) but we have servers who are putting our opponents in serious distress. And I’ve always said, there’s a definite correlation between your serving and your blocking and your passing. We’re blocking more balls this season, and even when we’re not blocking balls, we are contesting a ton of attacks and touching a ton of balls. And that’s giving us transition opportunities. I would say our ability to get teams out of system with our five or six servers is really, really high. They are hitting the ball really hard, and stressing the other teams.
Wisconsin hasn’t shown that ability, but they are able to hang with teams, and I consider them a good team, because they play hard. They are good at playing the overall game and playing to their strength, which is their middles.
DigNittany: Let’s talk about Illinois. They’re coming off a tough loss to Minnesota in Minneapolis. They are a young team (with Sr. libero Brandi Donnelly seemingly out with an injury, even younger), and appear to be getting better each week. Your thoughts?
Talking Head: They are a talented team. 6-2 Jr. setter Jordan Poulter is a fantastic player who really understands the game. Bastianelli is as good a middle as anybody in the country right now. They played a very good game against Minnesota, but I think we match up very well against Illinois. I don’t think they are a particularly good passing team, and we serve very well, so that could be a challenge for them. Their outside hitters (6-2 So. OH Jaqueline Quade and 6-3 RS So. OH Beth Prince) are good in-system, but struggle a little bit out of system because they are kind of straight-on hitters, so we may be more able to channel where we want them to hit. You go into this match knowing that Bastianelli is going to get her kills, as will their other middle. If Penn State gets into a swing-for-swing in-system match, they are going to take you to the limit. But I think we can exploit some of their weaknesses, and the longer the rallies go, the better off we are. I think we might see them falter in the middle of games, with Penn State opening a margin of three or four or five points, and we won’t look back from there. I don’t think Illinois is a team that can overcome a five or six point Penn State lead. But we’ll see how the match plays out. If we end up going toe-to-toe with these guys, deep into the twenties, the match could go to five, and fifth sets are tough to predict.
DigNittany: Speaking of predictions, care to make one?
Talking Head: Illinois hasn’t been very effective out-of-system. They haven’t shown an effective back-row attack. They sometimes put in three defensive specialists, and sometimes still have had problems passing. Our blocking and movement has gotten a lot better, the serving has picked up, and our transition has picked up because of the flexibility and symmetry provided by the 6-2 and the six-rotation skill provided this season by Simone Lee and Ali Frantti. They can defend, they can hit out of the back row, and they can pass. So I’ll say Penn State wins 3-1.
DigNittany: From your lips to the volleyball gods’ ears. Thanks, as always for your time. We appreciate it.