The Tennessee volleyball team will take on Illinois this Friday at 7 p.m. in Thompson Boling Arena.
The first matchup with the Fighting Illini this season, the Lady Vols are looking to make the most of their early-season opportunities.
“We haven't talked a ton about Illinois, instead we have focused a lot on ourselves,” head coach Eve Rackham said. “We know about the run they had to the Final Four and that they have retained a lot of really good players from that team. We have really just been focusing on the things that got exposed against High Point, and we have tried to keep this week simple.”
The Lady Vols played an exhibition match against High Point last Saturday and came away with the victory. This Friday marks the first regular season match for both Tennessee and the Fighting Illini.
Illinois comes into Knoxville with the unanimous Preseason All-Big Ten honoree, senior Jacqueline Quade. Quade also captured the American Volleyball Coaches Association First-Team All-American honors and the All-Big Ten First-Team accolades during her junior season.
The Fighting Illini’s season ended with a Final Four exit last year at the hands of No. 7 Nebraska 3-2.
“Illinois returned an All-American Outside in Jacqueline Quade and she is a terrific player and we need to be good defensively to stop her because we know she is going to get her kills,” Rackham said. “We need to be able to serve the ball really well and we need to control how aggressive we want to be with our servers in order to put them into uncomfortable situations.”
This is the first of four top-10 matches that the Lady Vols will play against this season and the first of five matches against top 25 squads, according to American Volleyball Coaches Association Preseason Poll.
The 19th-ranked Lady Vols boast their highest ranking since their 2012 campaign and are just one of three teams in the SEC to be ranked, along with Florida and Kentucky.
Tennessee’s season last year ended with a 3-1 defeat to 16th-ranked Washington State, in the second round. Last year also marked the first year of Coach Rackham’s tenure as Tennessee’s head coach.
“We have worked on getting into that prime-time game mindset,” Sedona Hansen said. “For us, having the mindset of what we are going to do in the game from the perspective of the offense and how are we going to get kills or the defensive perspective and how we are going to stop them.”
Hansen went on to point out that while the Lady Vols’ focus remains on both ends of the floor, it is their team chemistry and ability to share the ball that could benefit them most in the long run.
“Even having the mindset of how to pass efficiently to each other is really important for our overall team success.”
Friday’s match will begin a home-away series against Illinois. Both teams will have a quick turnaround as they will travel to Urbana-Champaign, Illinois to play on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.