By Zain Bando - IlliniGuys Student Correspondent
August 2, 2022
CHICAGO – For the first time in the history of the Big Ten, the conference introduced media days of a different kind. Popular ones like the annual football media day in the summer and basketball festivities in the fall take center stage, but now, it’s volleyball’s turn to enter the spotlight.
In a similar format to the media event for football, the volleyball event is split up into a two-day event amongst the conference’s member institutions. Illinois was part of Day 2’s festivities, as head coach Chris Tamas, senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins, and redshirt senior setter Diana Brown were in attendance Tuesday.
The trio spoke to the media ahead of the 2022-2023 season, as the Illini are coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, knocking off No. 7 seed Kentucky before falling to Nebraska in the NCAA Regional Semifinal, concluding the season with a 22-12 overall record.
Tamas was ecstatic when asked about Big Ten Volleyball Media Days finally becoming a reality.
“I’ll start by saying, I know I heard some commentary about this, this is awesome. I mean, we've been pushing to try to promote the sport for a long time,” Tamas said. “And I know like media day has been you guys that are sitting right here as a one-person show. I appreciate your efforts up until now. But this is great that the Big Ten has put this together to promote not only our sport but also women's athletics. And just proud to be part of it and try to continue to push the sport as best we can. And looking forward to another great year, competitive season as it always has been. And just looking forward to get after it.”
Tamas recognizes that the level of good quality volleyball, specifically in the Big Ten, has grown exponentially over the years, as evident by the conference’s tournament field in 2021.He feels the same way about his group as well.
“I think you're correct. I think we always talk about just improving one day at a time and just taking every day for what it's worth and just try to improve with every single step of the way. And some years you can put it all together and string it together,” he said.
Tamas knows that sometimes, having a bit of a momentum swing is good, too.
“Some of it is stroke of luck, too. I think last year as an example we kind of hit. We had a nice win against Penn State, and then we had three weeks where we were out with one of our main starters. And just kind of, I wouldn't say fell on a slide but just didn't do well as we wanted to. Finished seventh in the conference,” he said.
And once December hits, the former Nebraska coach knows that the season only gets tougher from there.
“Like you mentioned, we make it to the tournament. And safe to say nobody wants to see us in the tournament. We've always pushed that edge. And we talk about being great risk takers while we're playing in this tough conference, and that prepares us for the end of the year. And so I think it's just mostly with the messaging and, like I said, playing in this conference prepares you for just about anything. And I think you've seen it not only with us but you've had teams that six teams in the Sweet 16, four teams in the Elite Eight, two teams in the Final Four for the last six or seven years. I think the record speaks for themselves. But we're happy to be part of that. We just want to do it one day at a time. And we want to finish better than we started every single season. I'm proud to say we've done that for the majority of the seasons that we've had,” he said.
Collins and Brown have been close for several years, and now with their senior seasons in full swing, they feel that summer workouts and extra time as a team has made everyone’s bond that much closer. Three of the team’s spring ball matches were canceled, giving them less time to showcase themselves to a larger audience at Huff Hall.
“I think our team is in a good spot this summer just with us not having as much competition in the spring. I think we still play like we did have that competition this spring and summer. It's really exciting to see us work hard every day and prepare for the season. So I think we're in a good spot,” Collins said.
Brown knows that this is her biggest season to-date, and now fully healthy, she is excited to return to the court with her teammates.
“I don't think that I really have like regretted any of my effort on the court before this. But being an underclassman, you always hear about the upperclassmen, oh, my body hurts and I'm getting so old and stuff like that,” Brown said. “But I was explaining to teammates the other day, I don't really feel that yet. So just my body is speaking to me and I'm excited. I'm rejuvenated. I'm ready to go. And I don't think in that aspect it's any different and this may be my last season, but also you have to take every point like it's your last. Injuries unfortunately come here and there. I guess I don't really take for granted any playing that I have.”
The Illini open the season with the Ole Miss Invitational against Georgia Tech and Ole Miss Aug. 26 and 27. The team’s home opener is Friday, September 23 against the Maryland Terrapins at Huff Hall, with the tip-off still to be determined.
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