Illinois Public Media News
Fans of the U of I women's volleyball team came to Willard Airport Sunday to welcome the team back home, the day after their NCAA national title loss to UCLA on Saturday.
That loss capped a year in which the Illini team had the most wins since 1992, their first NCAA semifinal appearance since 1988, and their first championship game ever. A tired Michelle Bartsch couldn't pick a particular moment of the season that stood out for her. But Bartsch, who was named to the All-Tournament Team along with fellow Illini players Colleen Ward and Annie Luhrsen, says she remembers when she first realized she was on a team ready to compete for the championship. Bartsch says she knew it last January, when they first started training for the season.
"I switched positions", explains Bartsch. "We had people filling different roles. And I know that we had a team that could go really far. And with our freshmen coming in, it kind of solidified. Our freshmen are awesome, and they make us better every day in practice."
Coach Kevin Hambly agrees, saying that they had a great recruiting class with a lot of talent this season, and players who came expecting to compete for the national championship.
But if the players were charges up, so were the fans. Hambly says their response this season has been overwhelming.
"We sold out more matches this year than we have in the past", says Hambly. "And our attendance went way up. But what I think more important was just the amount of support from the community just walking around town, and the amount of emails and calls and everything. It's been overwhelming."
As for Michelle Bartsch, she plans to take the spring semester off to play volleyball professionally. But Hambly says the senior will be back at Illinois in the fall as part of the coaching staff.
Illinois's first trip to the NCAA finals in women's volleyball ended in defeat Saturday night. The UCLA Bruins won the match in four sets (25-23, 23-25, 26-24, 25-16) at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Coach Kevin Hambly says the Bruins played hard, and made the plays they needed to make at key moments, especially in the fourth and deciding set.
As for his own team, Hambly said, "I've never been around a group of people that were more committed to each other, more committed to the process, and more committed to just being, not just great volleyball players, but great people. It's truly been a pleasure to work with this group."
It was the final game for senior Colleen Ward, who earned First Team All-American honors earlier in the week. Afterwards, an emotional Ward fought back tears as she looked back on her time with the Illini.
"I couldn't have picked a better team, better coaches, betters support from my fans", said Ward. "I'm really thankful for what we had here and what we accomplished this year. I'm really proud of my team."
Illinois won the 2nd set by two points, and lost the 3rd by two points. Ward said it was difficult coming out of that close third-set loss into the final set. Michelle Bartsch had seven kills in the first set and seven more in the third, en route to a match high 22 kills on the night. Rachel Kidder had a team high 20 kills for the Bruins. Illinois finished the season with a record of 32-5.
The Illini's Ward, Bartsch and junior setter Annie Luhrsen were named to the All-Tournament Team. Luhrsen had 47 assists and six kills.
A fan welcome reception was planned for Sunday for the Illini volleyball team at Flightstar at Willard Airport --- the team was expected to return around 12:15 PM.
Unlike other schools, The Fighting Illini volleyball team can boast that most of its players come from Illinois.
For example, Penn State won four straight national championships before this year. But that's largely due its recruiting beyond the border of Pennsylvania.
Heading into Saturday night's title match, Fighting Illini coach Kevin Hambly doesn't feel he needs to go too far to lure high-quality volleyball players.
"We're fortunate that the University of Illinois is close proximity to some very good recruiting bases," he said. "Ohio, the Chicago area, the St. Louis area, and Indianapolis. Most kids, especially with the nature of how early recruiting is going, want to stay closer to home."
Illinois will take on UCLA at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The Fighting Illini are attempting to win their first national title in women's volleyball.
(Updated with additional coverage from Greg Echlin)
The University of Illinois women's volleyball team will remember the Alamodome. It was at the Alamodome in San Antonio that the third-seed Fighting Illini (32-4) defeated top-seed USC(29-5) Thursday night, winning three out of five sets, (25-27, 25-18, 25-22, 18-25, 15-10) to qualify for the NCAA championship game for the first time.
The victory came on Illinois' third trip to the women's volleyball Final Four, and their first since 1988.
Senior outside hitter Colleen Ward had 27 kills and Michelle Bartsch added 22 kills for the Illini victory.
The drama intensified as the fifth set reached match point, with Illinois fans showing their anticipation with a chant of "One more point! One more point!"
That last rally turned out to be the most dramatic, and the crowd oohed and ahhed as each powerful spike was answered by an inspiring dig on the net's other side. It continued for a minute, seeming longer, until U-S-C's Katie Fuller committed an attack error. The match belonged to the Fighting Illini.
Liz McMahon, a 6-foot-6 freshman from Ohio, had five kills in that deciding set. After the game, she was soaking in the experience.
"It's a blast, I can tell you that", McMahom said of the win that ushered her team into the finals. "Yeah, it's just fun, but with this team and how far we've come."
The Illini's post-game celebration was subdued, with Coach Kevin Hambly reminding his players that they still had one more game. Nevertheless, Hambly spoke glowingly of what his team had accomplished.
"I'm proud of the girls", Hambly said. "You know our goal was to get to this match, the next match, and they stuck to that. Well, more than just get to the match. But I thought they were determined to make that happen."
Alex Jupiter had 32 kills for USC. The Trojans lost in the semis for the second consecutive year after being pushed to five sets for a third consecutive match this tournament.
Illinois will play UCLA in the championship match Saturday night at 7:30 PM Central Time. The Bruins defeated Florida State in three sets (25-16, 25-17, 25-21) in the Thursday night semifinals. Illinois is 0-and-9 in all-time play against UCLA in volleyball.
(Reported for Illinois Public Media News by Greg Echlin; additional reporting by the Associated Press)
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The University of Illinois' volleyball team is on its way to San Antonio, hoping to put the exclamation point on a 31 and 4 season.
The team is seeking its first national title, and reached its first national semifinal in 23 years after a defeat of Florida on Saturday. Early Tuesday morning, the team boarded a charter bus to Chicago's Midway Airport. Sophomore Jennifer Beltran says it's nice to steal the spotlight from U of I football and basketball for once.
"It's great to see the support and just see the people come out and cheering for us," she said. "I mean, it is a big deal for the program and for the school, so it's nice that we can just be a part of it."
Beltran says reaching the championship game was a goal the team set at the very start of its season. Assistant Coach Jen Flynn Oldenberg says a Final Four berth became more evident as the season went on.
"You never know right away, but it's something we were preparing for and talking about the whole time," she said. "It's something that we were focused on, not in every game, point by point, but it's something that we thought about throughout the year."
The volleyball team takes on USC at 8 p.m. Thursday in San Antonio, following the matchup of UCLA and Florida State. The title game is at 7:30 Saturday night.
Illinois is headed to Thursday's Final Four round of the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament for the first time since 1988, after beating Florida in three out of four sets Saturday, to win the regional in Gainesville.
Illinois posted a 25-22, 23-25, 25-14, 25-20 victory over the Gators. After a .068 performance in an opening set that saw weak performances from both sides, the Illini players hit .455, .394 and .514 in the final three sets, respectively, and .338 for the night. Former Gator Colleen Ward led the way for Illinois with a .500 performance, with 23 kills in 42 swings ---- including nine out of nine in the final set. Ward was named Regional Tournament MVP, and named to the All-Regional Tournament Team, along with Illinois' Michelle Bartsch and Jennifer Beltran.
Illinois is headed to the Final Four round in San Antonio with a season record of 31-4 and a seven-match winning streak. The Illini will face No. 7 USC,which defeated No. 15 Pepperdine 3-2 to win the NCAA Honolulu Regional.
For the first time since 1992, Illinois's volleyball team is heading to a regional final.
The third-seeded Illini won a fierce battle with fellow Big Ten member Ohio State Friday, advancing to Saturday night's regional final in Gainesville, Fla. The Illini will be looking for its third appearance in the national semifinals and first since 1988. The Illini reach the 30-win mark for the 7th time in school history.
The Illini (30-4) reach the 30-win mark for the seventh time in school history, but the first since that 1992 season. Illinois also end a string of three straight years in which their season has ended in the Sweet 16. Illinois wins its seventh straight match overall and eighth straight against Ohio State in the series between the two schools.
Eastern Illinois has hired Baylor assistant coach Dino Babers to take over for longtime head football coach Bob Spoo.
The school announced Babers' hiring on Friday. The longtime assistant coach was a member of Spoo's first staff at Eastern in 1987. The Football Championship Subdivision school plays in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Babers coached Baylor's wide receivers and has been at the school since 2008. The Bears went 9-3 this season and are headed to the Alamo Bowl.
He played at Hawaii and has been an assistant at schools including Pittsburgh, Texas A&M, San Diego State, UCLA, Arizona, Purdue, Northern Arizona and UNLV.
Spoo announced plans to retire before this season. The Panthers finished 2-9. Spoo finished with a career record of 144-131-1.
The 23rd head football coach in University of Illinois history is Tim Beckman, who hails from the University of Toledo.
Introduced in an afternoon press conference Friday, Beckman calls the job an opportunity of a lifetime. He says the top goal is building a family - an accountable group of players that will set aside personal goals to achieve team goals.
"It's very important that each one of these players understands that," said Beckman. "Because throughout my career, throughout my time as a coach's son, I've seen some great, great football teams have excelled on the football field, excelled in the classroom, and excelled in the community because they were successful as being men, and successful as being a family."
In three seasons, Beckman led the Toledo Rockets to a 21-16 record, and two bowl bids. "I was raised in this profession," said Beckman. "There are only certain coaches in college football that can say for every waking minute of my life I've been around football."
Beckman inherited a team that went 3-9 in 2008, improving to 5-7 in 2009 before going 8-5 with a 7-1 record in the Mid-American Conference. Beckman's father, Dave, coached football on all levels, including at Iowa, and worked in the front offices of the Browns and Chargers. He learned under such names as Pat Dye, Urban Meyer, Mike Gundy, and Jim Tressel.
He says his first priority in his new job is recruitment. And he says his players will quickly learn his intense style of play.
"You will see that on every football player's face and every football player's game-type ability that he shows each and every day that he steps out there in this great stadium that we have, or in this great conference that we have in the Big Ten," said Beckman.
"He's a mentor," said U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas. "And it's not just something that happens in the recruiting process and as these kids are with us for four or five years, but part of their lives when they leave the University of Illinois with their diplomas."
Beckman, 46, is a native of Berea, Ohio. Prior to his three years at Toledo, he held a variety of roles on the staff of teams, including those at Oklahoma State, Ohio State, and Bowling Green Universities. He'll earn a salary of $9-million over 5 years at the U of I. And Beckman confirmed he would only be a spectator at the Illini's appearance in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on New Year's Eve. Vic Koenning will serve as interim coach for that game.
Beckman holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Findlay, and a master's from Auburn University.
Watch Tim Beckman's opening remarks on Friday, December 09, 2011
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