Sunday, December 11, 2011

Final Four

Coach Kevin Hambly and his Fighting Illini volleyball team are headed to San Antonio next weekend for the national volleyball championship semi-finals. After beating both Ohio State and Florida in hard-fought matches in Gainsville this weekend, the Illini have reached the the Final Four!

Led by seniors Colleen Ward and Michelle Bartsch, and with strong support from rising freshman standouts Liz McMahon and Anna Dorn, the Illini continue to extend their season. The Florida match was tough, but the Illini won 3-1 with an almost unstoppable performance by Ward (a Florida transfer). The whole team contributed to the win, with great leadership from setter Annie Luhrsen, solid defense from libero Jennifer Beltran, key hits and blocks from Erin Johnson and support in the backcourt and on the service line from Rachel Feldman. These girls are fun -- and exhausting -- to watch.

The Florida match was broadcast on ESPNU, and despite the encouragement from the commentators and the highlight reel team, the Gators weren't able to overcome the Illini. Not sure why the analysis was so pro-Florida, but it was a bit annoying.

The Illini are the highest remaining seed in the tournament, ranked 3rd overall going into it. They spent 4 weeks at #1 during the season, longer than any other team. And although they finished tied for second in the Big Ten (arguably the toughest volleyball conference in the nation) they are the only conference team still in the national title hunt. They will take on USC Thursday night.

Congratulations, girls! And Go Illini!


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