Huskies take on their first ranked opponent of the season
Two weeks ago, Boise State was the season-opening opponent for both Washington volleyball and football. This weekend, Illinois is the Big Ten host for the same two teams.
|Washington's Jenna Orlandini (4) coach Jim McLaughlin and Jenni Nogueras (9)|
-photo by Shutter Geeks Photography
On paper, #6 Washington faces its toughest preseason test in Champaign-Urbana. The Illini reached the NCAA Finals two seasons ago, losing to UCLA in the championships. Last season, despite a high RPI, Illinois finished barely above .500 and missed the tournament.
This season, Illinois has easily the toughest preseason schedule in the nation. It recorded wins against Florida State, Kentucky and Iowa State, ranked #18, #17 and #11 at the time. The Illini lost to unranked Long Beach State and to this season’s Cinderella team, #9 San Diego. This weekend, Illinois hosts #6 Washington, #2 Texas and a team that should be ranked, undefeated Arizona State. It concludes its preseason with a match next week at current #18 North Carolina. How’s that for nonconference competition?
The Illini are led by 6-2 sophomore hitter Jocelynn Birks, with an eye-popping 4.58 kills per set (87 kills, 19 sets). Liz McMahon, the other hitter, is a 6-6 junior averaging 3.11 kills per set. The big blocker is 6-4 freshman Maddie Mayers; she’s averaging a big-time 1.79 blocks per set.
This trip offers a unique opportunity for the Huskies—they’ll be able to watch their undefeated Pac-12 compatriot Arizona State take on Illinois earlier in the day. Weirdly, however, Washington won’t face #2 Texas. The Longhorns are in town only to take on Illinois and ASU.
“We tried to schedule Texas,” Washington coach Jim McLaughlin tells Volleyblog Seattle. “Texas didn’t want to play us. We were gonna try and play them at Key Arena and then play them in Illinois. It just didn’t work out.”
Washington’s volleyball team will be in the stands at Chicago’s historic Soldier Field for Saturday’s UW/Illinois football game. They’ll stay in Chicago for a Sunday afternoon match against Loyola of Chicago.
Photos courtesy Shutter Geeks Photography