The No. 9 Husker volleyball team returns home after a four-match road trip to take on the No. 6 Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday. The Illini are the Huskers’ fifth top-10 opponent in their last seven matches.
This will be the second match between the two teams this season. Nebraska won the first match of the year between the two schools 3-1 in Champaign, Illinois on Sept. 29.
Illinois comes to Lincoln with a 19-3 record, and are 8-3 in Big Ten play, good for third place in the conference. The Illini are currently on a four-match winning streak which includes victories over No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 12 Michigan. Illinois has lost just once on the road this season –– a 3-0 defeat at the hands of No. 3 Minnesota on Oct. 12.
Nebraska enters the match with a 16-5 record and are 7-4 in Big Ten play. The Huskers broke a three-match losing streak with a win over the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday. The brief skid has the Huskers sitting in sixth place in the conference with a month left in the regular season. Nebraska is 12-2 in the friendly confines of the Devaney Center, with the two losses coming to then-No. 7 Florida and then-No. 5 Minnesota.
The Illini boast one of the top offenses in the Big Ten. Illinois ranks among the top three in the conference in hitting percentage (.276), assists (13.59 per set), kills (14.39 per set) and service aces (1.69 per set).
Illinois’ success on offense is largely due to the performances of senior middle blocker Ali Bastianelli and junior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade. Bastianelli ranks third in the Big Ten in hitting percentage among qualified players with .391. The senior is also a force to be reckoned with on defense, as she leads the Illini with 1.39 blocks per set. That mark is good enough for third-best in the conference behind Wisconsin sophomore middle blocker Dana Rettke and Nebraska freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach.
Quade leads the conference with 4.20 kills per set and has scored double digit kills in 19 of the team’s 22 games this season. She also has the second most service aces on the team with 22.
Outside of service aces, where it ranks first in the Big Ten, Nebraska trails Illinois in all offensive categories. However, the Huskers hold an advantage over the Illini in defense. Nebraska’s defense still leads the nation in opponent hitting percentage –– allowing just a .132 mark against opponents. Nebraska also holds a top-five mark in the Big Ten with 2.72 blocks per set.
Schwarzenbach, as mentioned earlier, has had quite the season stuffing opponent’s attacks. The freshman is second in the Big Ten averaging 1.49 blocks per set. Two Huskers, senior libero Kenzie Maloney and freshman setter Nicklin Hames, both rank in the top 15 in the conference in digs with marks of 4.00 and 3.11 per set, respectively.
First serve from the Devaney Center on Saturday is set for 7 p.m. The match will air on BTN.