Disclaimer: Even though March is not exactly the time of year where huge stories come out in women’s volleyball in any division, we still see the start of spring seasons across the Division I landscape. That being said, this article will focus on adjustments and any early-season views we might have in both Kentucky and Illinois, and is in no way related to how either team might or might not look come August 2018. I personally do not have inside information on either program, and I am writing this to just convey observations from the spring match played on Friday, March 30 at Avon High School in Avon, Indiana.
On Friday, March 30, Avon High School (IN) hosted a spring match between Sweet 16 participant Illinois and Elite 8 participant Kentucky. Illinois OH Beth Prince is an Avon graduate, so it was a pleasant homecoming for the close to 500 fans in attendance (Kentucky will do this again in the state of Indiana on April 11 at Providence High school in Clarksville). Both teams had major graduations and some transfers, so we’ll take a little time to break down each team’s losses and how who played where during the match.
KENTUCKY ROSTER CHANGES
With Kaz Brown (MB) Emily Franklin (MB), Darian Mack (OH), Ashley Dusek (L) and Harper Hempel (DS) graduating, we knew there would be big shoes to fill for the 2018 season. That’s 1500+ career digs (Dusek) and 2500+ career kills/1000+ career blocks (Brown, Franklin and Mack combined) graduating. Add to the mix Jordan Fry (MB) and Olivia Dailey (S) transferring to Ohio State, and one could argue that there could be a rebuild in Lexington.
Not so fast. Coach Craig Skinner picked up junior college transfer Caitlyn Cooper from Iowa Western CC, who has been seeing regular time at the outside position this spring, her natural spot on the floor. One could also argue as to where the libero position could come from in recruiting, but look no further than the 3-rotation substitute from a season ago, Gabby Curry.
ILLINOIS ROSTER CHANGES
Illinois graduated only one player. Unfortunately, it was defensive floor general Brandi Donnelly, a 2000+ career dig machine who made more than her fair share of plays in her senior season alone to propel Illinois to a Sweet 16 appearance. However, Coach Chris Tamas is starting to bring in his own recruits, and some other players were starting to feel the pressure. Defensive specialist Annika Gereau and middle blocker Tyanna Omazic both transferred to Missouri, outside hitter Marijke Van Dyke has found a new home in Louisville, and injuries slowed the career of pin attacker Kylie Kuyava-Deberg enough that she is no longer listed on Illinois’ spring 2018 roster.
That being said, the core of what made Illinois so great is returning. All-American setter Jordyn Poulter returns, along with pin attackers Beth Prince and Jacqueline Quade and All-American middle blocker Ali Bastianelli.
SO WHO PLAYED WHERE IN THE SPRING MATCH?
- OH – Beth Prince, Jacqueline Quade
- MB – Ali Bastianelli, Blayke Hranicka
- Opp – Megan Cooney
- S – Jordyn Poulter
- L – Morgan O’Brien
Off the bench – Caroline Welsh (for Cooney), Lexie Smith and Emmaline Walters (for both OH positions defensively), Kylie Bruder as a serving sub in the 3rd, Emily Hollowell in the 3rd and 4th to spell Quade.
- OH – Leah Edmond, Avery Skinner, Caitlyn Cooper and Meredith Jewell (when she wasn’t DS’ing for one of the others)
- MB – Brooke Morgan, Kendyl Paris
- Opp – Equal time between Edmond and Skinner
- S – Madison Lilley
- L – Gabby Curry
Off the bench – Kylie Schmaltz (for multiple players in the back row), Meredith Jewell (same)
Injured/DNP – McKenzie Watson (DS), Anna Nyberg (OH)
TAKEAWAYS FROM THE MATCH
UK def. Illinois, 3-1 (25-23, 25-15, 21-25, 25-18)
It was clear that UK was able to do more due to better serve receive and tougher serving overall. With the pin players UK already has, and keeping teams honest by feeding the middles semi-regularly, Coach Skinner has to be pleased with their second spring match.
The ‘bic’ was used by both teams semi-regularly, but this was the first time that this author saw Illinois go to it—-maybe based on Coach Tamas’ experience with the national team. Additionally, for Illinois, the middle that will play opposite Bastianelli in the fall may not be on this roster yet. Hranicka is a good middle in her own right, but was outmatched by the bigger (in Morgan’s case, 5″ bigger) middles UK had. UI’s ousides, Indiana natives Prince and Quade, will terminate well in the Big Ten season next fall, but the serve receive will have to improve in order for the Fighting Illini to compete at the highest level. With Poulter running the offense, though, anything is possible.