CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — For the first time in conference history, the Big Ten will hold Volleyball Media Days, consisting of players and head coaches from all 14 conference teams.
The inaugural two-day event is the first in-person preseason media session for collegiate volleyball, a move redshirt senior setter Diana Brown calls “a step in the right direction.”
“I have always thought that volleyball deserved more attention,” Brown said. “On a big stage, we can compete, and people want to watch it. And so to have the media day be expanded to volleyball, I think that it’s a step in the right direction. I don’t want to sound snooty and everything , but I think we deserve more.”
Brown and senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins have the distinct honor of being the first Illinois student-athletes to represent their team and school at Media Days alongside head coach Chris Thomas.
Tamas enters his sixth season at the helm at Illinois and has guided the Illini to four NCAA tournament appearances, including a Final Four berth in 2018. Despite losing first-team All-Big Ten standout Megan Cooney spirit libero Taylor Cooperthe Illini are geared to return a strong roster heading into 2022.
Awesome to work for a conference that believes in the advancement in our sport and in women’s athletics. This is HUGE! https://t.co/mjyztD66zr
— Chris Thomas (@coachtamas) June 24, 2022
Collins put together a career-best season in 2021, recording 277 kills, 13 service aces, 18 solo blocks, and 126 total blocks to go with a .336 hitting percentage. In her fourth season in the orange and blue, Collins sees it as an incredible opportunity to be able to represent the Illini on a bigger stage.
“I’m very excited to represent Illinois. I wouldn’t want to represent any other school,” Collins said. “Just being able to be one of the first ones to go to this media day means a lot to me, and I’m very excited to represent Illinois, just because we are a great school and a great program, and everyone around me is great. It just makes it even easier for me to want to represent us.”
Brown also set new career highs in multiple areas, registering 28 service aces, nearly 1,300 assists, 300 digs, six solo blocks, 73 total blocks and a .302 hitting percentage.
As the oldest Illini, Brown takes added responsibility and accountability in being able to represent Illinois as an individual despite the fact that volleyball is a team sport.
“For two of us to be chosen, it was kind of odd because we normally give team answers and not individual answers,” Brown said. “I think it is extremely cool to 1. have a Big Ten media day for volleyball and 2. to be the inaugural chosen ones. So, on that account, I think that is where I really like, take a step back. It’s history, and it’s really cool to be a part of that history, and to say that I represent this team, I feel very honored.”
The Illini went 22-12 last season and returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019. Following a seventh-place finish in Big Ten play, Illinois advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018 behind wins over West Virginia and defending national champion Kentucky on the Wildcats home court.
“When I step back and look back at last season, I would consider it successful,” Brown said. “But we’ve gotten to the point where it’s like, we just made it to the Sweet 16. We’re hungry for that Elite Eight, that Final Four. I’ve been to the Final Four. I want to go back.
“With that being said, we as a program talk about that’s the standard now. It’s not just to get into the tournament. It’s not just to get past the first and second rounds. It’s kind of expected to make it back to the Sweet 16 , and we want to get that national ranking in the tournament and host. We want to be the ones who aren’t the underdog.”
Illinois will participate in the second day of the event with reigning national champion Wisconsin, Rutgers, Maryland, Iowa, Minnesota, and Penn State.
— Illinois Volleyball (@IlliniVBall) July 26, 2022
Team practices will begin on Aug. 9 as the Illini prepare to open their season against Georgia Tech at the Ole Miss Classic in Mississippi on Aug. 27. Conference play will begin on Sept. 23 at Huff Hall as Illinois welcomes Maryland to start a three-match homestand.
“Playing in Huff is a different feeling,” Collins said. “It’s in our environment. Everybody’s cheering for us, so I feel like we should take that to our advantage and use that to help build up to the rest of our season.”