December 2, 2021
(From University of Illinois Sports Information)
The Illinois volleyball team received an at-large bid in the 2021 NCAA Division I Championship and will be making its 27th appearance in program history and fourth time in five years under head coach Chris Tamas as the Illini travel to Lexington, Ky., on the campus of the University of Kentucky to face West Virginia in the first round of the tournament.
The Illini will face the Mountaineers (19-9, 8-8 Big 12) at 4 p.m. CT in the first match on Friday (December 3) in Memorial Coliseum, followed by host and No. 7 seed Kentucky (24-4, 17-1 SEC) taking on SEMO (26-7, 14-4 OVC) at 6:30 p.m. CT. The winner of each match will advance to the second round on Saturday at 4 p.m. CT.
Teams winning two matches this weekend will move on to regional play on December 9-11. The regional winners will advance to the National Semifinals and Championship Final on December 16 and 18 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The national semifinal matches will broadcast on ESPN and the championship match will broadcast on ESPN2.
The Big Ten led all conferences with eight teams selected from the league to compete in the championship tournament, with the eight selections marking the 29th time in as many years that at least six Big Ten teams have been selected to the tournament. Big Ten Champion Wisconsin earned the No. 4 overall seed, with No. 6 Purdue, No. 9 Ohio State, No. 10 Nebraska, No. 12 Minnesota earning seeds, and Penn State and Michigan joining the Illini as at-large selections to the tournament.
The Illinois volleyball team has played against all three teams in this weekend's regional, with the Illini having faced WVU just once in program history, a 2-0 win during the 1978 season.
The Illini hold a 4-3 mark against the Wildcats and have won three-straight against UK, including a 3-0 sweep in their last meeting in 2015.
The Illini also own a 2-0 record against SEMO, with the two teams last meeting in 1998, with UI coming away with a 3-0 win in Huff Hall.
Illinois is making its 27th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament and its 11th postseason appearance in the last 14 seasons. The Illini own a 44-26 (.629) all-time record in postseason play. The Illini have advanced to Regionals on eight occasions since 2008, including a run to the National Championship match in 2011.
The Illini last made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2019, falling in a hard-fought five-set battle against Utah in the opening round on the campus of BYU.
A pair of Illinois volleyball players garnered Big Ten Conference postseason honors, the league announced on Wednesday (December 1) as graduate student Megan Cooney was named All-Big Ten First-Team, with junior Jessica Nunge tabbed as Illinois' Big Ten Sportsmanship Award recipient.
The 'Iron Woman' of the Illini, Cooney recently became the program's career sets played leader and has played in 546 sets in her career at Illinois, playing in 145 of 149 matches in her five years, including starting all 31 contests this season. The 2021 CoSIDA Academic All-District Second-Team honoree ranks second on the team with 344 kills for a 2.97 kill per set on a .261 hitting percentage and 271 digs, while also ranking third on the team with 77 blocks and fourth with 29 service aces. A 2020-21 Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and three-time Academic All-Big Ten, Cooney was named All-Big Ten Second-Team a season ago.
Nunge has made an immediate impact in her first season with the Illini, playing all 31 matches in 2021. A Panther Invite and Redbird Classic All-Tournament selection, she ranks third on the team with 295 kills and 32 aces and has also registered 104 digs and 37 blocks.
Illinois is receiving votes in the newest American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Coaches Top 25 Poll after having been ranked for the last four weeks, highlighted by last week's No. 23 ranking. The Illini entered the poll at No. 25 during week 11, marking the first time since 2019 season the Illini were ranked, before moving to No. 24 during week 13.
Illinois is one of eight Big Ten schools ranked or receiving votes in the AVCA Poll with No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 8 Purdue, No. 9 Ohio State, No. 10 Nebraska, No. 11 Minnesota and No. 15 Penn State in the poll and the Illini and Michigan receiving vote.
Along with their conference foes, the Illini have faced two other opponents in the top-25, including No. 12 Washington and No. 20 Creighton. Potential Saturday foe Kentucky comes in at No. 7.
The NCAA released its eighth RPI of the season on Monday (November 28), with Illinois coming in at No. 30 in the ranking.
During the regular season, the Illini faced seven opponents that sit in the top 25, with 13 foes ranking in the top 75.
Friday's foe West Virginia comes in at No. 43, while Kentucky comes in at No. 6 and SEMO sits at No.88.
The No. 23 Illinois volleyball team put on a dominating performance – needing only 74 minutes to dispatch Michigan State in a 3-0 (25-18, 25-12, 25-16) sweep in the regular season finale on Friday (November 26) night in Jenison Field House.
Junior Jessica Nunge led the Illini with 10 kills on a .292 hitting percentage and two blocks, while graduate student Megan Cooney added nine kills on a .533 hitting percentage and sophomore Raina Terry posted eight kills on a .312 attach clip to go along with a match-high four service aces.
Redshirt-junior Diana Brown handed out 30 assists as she directed the Illini to a team hitting percentage of .333, while also turning in six digs, four blocks and a career-high three aces.
Sophomore Raina Terry led the Illini with 30 kills for a 4.29 kills per set average on a .208 hitting percentage, to go along with four service aces and 11 digs.
Redshirt-junior Diana Brown directed the Illini offense to a .264 hitting percentage after handing out 79 assists for a 11.29 assists per set mark, while adding 16 digs for a 2.29 digs per set mark, five blocks and a team-high five aces.
Graduate student Megan Cooney has been a stalwart in the Illini lineup since she has been a freshman - playing in 145 of 149 in her five years. Her 145 matches played also sits fourth all-time in program history behind Chris Schwarz (151, 1985-88), Mary Eggers (150, 1985-88) and Sandy Scholtens (146, 1985-88).
On October 29 at Rutgers, Cooney became the all-time leader in career sets played at Illinois and has currently played in 546 sets in her storied career. She passes Illinois Hall of Famer Mary Eggers' previous program record of 516 sets played that she established from 1985-88.
After reaching the 1,000 kills mark a season ago on the road at Penn State, she also recently moved over 1,400 kills and reached 500 digs in her Illini career on Nov. 14. Heading into this week's matches, Cooney currently sits just 25 kills away from 1,500 career kills with 1,475, while also owning 535 digs and 340 blocks in her career.
Sophomore Raina Terry owns 54 service aces in 116 sets played on the season, ranking her ninth in the NCAA and first in the Big Ten.
Her 54 aces also sits second all-time for service aces in a single season in the Illinois record book, with Tina Rogers (1992) owning the program record with 67 in 108 sets.
The Sophomore's 0.47 aces per set mark also ranks 20th nationally and paces the conference.
• Illinois is fourth the nation and leads the Big Ten in total service aces (223).
• Illinois ranks 13th in the nation and leads the Big Ten in service aces per set (1.92).
• Illinois is 48th in the NCAA and fourth in the conference in team total blocks (263.5).
• Illinois is 50th in the NCAA in team kills (1,504).
• Illinois is 63rd in the nation in team assists (1,370).
• Illinois is 81st in the nation in team total attacks (4,009).
• Illinois is 89th in the NCAA in blocks per set (2.27).
• Sophomore Raina Terry is ninth in the NCAA and leads the Big Ten with 54 total aces and is 20th nationally and first in the conference with 0.47 aces per set.
• Senior Taylor Kuper ranks 25th in the NCAA and second in the Big Ten in aces (47) and is 54th in the nation and fifth in the Big Ten with 0.41 aces per set.
• Kuper ranks 89th in the NCAA and is fifth the conference in digs per set (4.47) and is 40th in the nation and first in the Big Ten with 518 digs on the season.
• Terry also ranks 57th in the NCAA and is sixth in the conference with 476.5 total points on the season and is 47th nationally and sits fifth in the Big Ten with 1,171 attacks on the season, while also sitting 88th with 391 total kills.
• Redshirt-junior Diana Brown ranks 15th in the NCAA and is third in the conference with 1,186 total assists, while also sitting 56th nationally and sixth in the Big Ten with 10.22 assists per set.
• Junior Kennedy Collins ranks 68th in the NCAA and ninth in the Big Ten with 118.0 total blocks and is eighth in the conference with a .334 hitting percentage.
A constant in the Illini lineup through her four years at Illinois, senior Taylor Kuper reached a career milestone in the Missouri match on Sept. 17 as she collected a match-high 18 digs, with her 14th dig of the match marking her 1,000 career dig. Kuper becomes the 16th Illini to reach that mark and is currently in sixth place in program history with 1,362 career digs.
The Lenexa, Kansas native also owns 168 career service aces and moved into third place in program history with four total aces in wins at Rutgers and No. 13 Penn State. Illini Hall of Famer Mary Eggers owns the all-time record with 180 aces from 1985-88, with Laura Bush (1987-90) sitting in second with 176.
Graduate student Megan Cooney ranks seventh in the NCAA active career leaders with 546 sets played, while also siting 18th with 145 matches played and 38th with 1,475 kills in her five-year career.
Senior Taylor Kuper is also 12th in NCAA active career leaders with 168 career service aces.
Chris Tamas is in his fifth season as head coach of the Fighting Illini volleyball program in 2021 after being named to the position in February 2017. Tamas (pronounced Thomas) is the eighth head coach in Illinois history.
In his five seasons at the helm of the program, Tamas has made an immediate impact on Illinois volleyball and owns an overall record of 98-51 (.658), including a 59-39 (.602) mark in the nation's toughest volleyball league, the Big Ten Conference, as well as four NCAA Tournament appearances.
Illinois experienced one of its most successful seasons ever in 2018 under Tamas, who was named American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Northeast Region Coach of the Year. The Illini made the program's fourth-ever appearance in the NCAA National Semifinals as the No. 3 overall seed in the tournament – riding a 17-match win streak into the Final Four - and ended the season ranked No. 3 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Coaches Poll. The team registered a 32-4 overall record and finished in second place in the Big Ten Conference with a 17-3 mark, with the 32 victories ranking tied for fourth-most wins in school history.
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