Girls volleyball preview '10: The new-look Illineks look to build experience
Published: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - 5:59pm
Head Coach: Elisabeth Pollock (second season)
2009 Record: 14-15-1 overall, 8-4 East Central Illinois Conference, lost to Paris in Class 2A regionals
Key Losses: Michelle Wong, Tuli Bera, Rachel Harmon, Chumin Gao, Amy Ding
Key Returnees: Senior Amrutha Kumaran ; juniors Jamie Blue and Hannah Johlas ; sophomores Emma Hoyer, Juliana Trach, and Jo Ellen Machesky
Outlook With the loss of five starters, Michelle Wong, Tuli Bera, Rachel Harmon, Chumin Gao and Amy Ding, this young and inexperienced squad looks to exceed all expectations. Center Jamie Blue looks to lead this year's team to a regional victory, despite having to face Class 2A competition in the playoffs.
Dates to Remember: Aug. 31 (season opener at at Atwood-Hammond), Sept. 14 (at crosstown rival Judah Christian), Oct. 15 (Senior Night vs. Buckley Christ Lutheran), Oct. 27 (IHSA regionals begin)
Junior Hannah Johlas (left) is one of the key players that are stepping up to fill in the roles of the graduated players. Photos by Gargoyle staff (click to enlarge)
Five out of six starters were lost due to graduation, including Michelle Wong who was named Crusader Invitational MVP and set the school record for career assists. Photo by Gargoyle staff (click to enlarge)
URBANA— In head coach Elisabeth Pollock's first season, the 2009 girls volleyball squad made a statement as they defeated cross-town rivals Judah Christian and were named Crusader Invitational Champs. But with the loss of five starters due to graduation, this year's team has a lot of work ahead to step up and have another successful season.
The 2009 season came to heartbreaking end with a four-game losing streak, including a loss to Paris in the Class 2A regional game. But for this year's team, the past losses have given the players a desire to perform even better.
"Last season ended kind of sadly, especially losing our senior night game to Judah," said sophomore libero Jo Ellen Machesky. "Also, we didn't make it past the first regional game, which has never happened [in Uni volleyball history], but it would of been nice because we had such a strong team. [The season] also ended with the idea that us underclassmen will be back this year to get revenge on some of the teams like Judah."
The major challenge this year for the Illineks is filling the huge roles of last year's seniors, which composed five out of the six starters. In the first few weeks of practice, the team had to adjust to their new positions and build as much skill and experience as possible.
"We don't have a lot of experience returning from last season, so it will take time to get adjusted to new positions, new teammates, and varsity playing time," said Pollock, "But as long as we keep working hard, we should get better every week."
"Certainly in these first weeks there is a bit of anxiety and pressure floating around," added senior captain Amrutha Kumaran, "but we know that we have got to just work on improving our game and really make every practice count."
The one returning starter is junior captain Jamie Blue, who has been key as the center. Blue and 2010 graduate Rachel Harmon were a dynamic duo at the net with their blocks. The center hopes to use her experience to help the team get ready for this season.
Practice seems to be paying off as the team has gotten into a sync with new players that climbed their way through the JV ranks to the varsity level.
"There are people stepping up to play. Jamie and [sophomore] Emma [Hoyer] are the centers and both played last year and they are doing great," said Machesky. "[Sophomore] Juliana [Trach] and [junior] Sarah Heffley are the main setters. Also [junior] Hannah [Johlas] has been good at line and Amrutha at crosses."
"I think we will pull it together. The rotation will come together after the first time in the game."
"We have a lot of new players all getting used to each other, so we still have some tweeking to do, but I think we are ready as ever," said Blue. "As long as we come out strong [in the season opener], everything will work itself out."
"I think that everyone's nerves are pretty high, but we are definitely ready to get out of Kenney Gym for our first game and see our hard work during the practices since summer pay off."
Even with a difficult season ahead for the inexperienced Illineks, there are high hopes that this team will have grown into a mature team by the end of the season.
"Our varsity lineups this year and our game rotations are completely new, but by the end of the season I see us as a much more confident and tight-knit team on and off the court," said Kumaran.