Mosher still not just a setter

Aug. 29—Beat writer Scott Richey spotlights three storylines ahead of Tuesday's 6 p.m. first serve at Huff Hall for Illinois' home opener with Valparaiso:

Barnes likely still out for IlliniIllinois will likely be without starting libero Caroline Barnes for a second straight match. The Illini junior remains in concussion protocol, having suffered the injury in practice ahead of the Aug. 16 exhibition against Eastern Illinois. Barnes missed Saturday's season-opening win at Northern Illinois, with true freshman Lily Barry donning the white jersey against the Huskies. During the four-set victory, Barry delivered a match-high 27 digs and had two receiving errors. The Normal U-High graduate was also the Illini's most effective server, with three aces and just one error in 23 total attempts.

"She's flying around back there," Illinois coach Chris Tamas said Monday afternoon of Barry. "She's doing a nice job of just kind of leading the backcourt. She's still going to make some green mistakes a little bit, and she's going to have to learn playing this level of play, but she's done a really nice job adjusting and kind of commanding the backcourt and responding well to the new role. It's not easy just to get thrown in there."

Versatility a plus for Tamas' teamTamas made a point of mentioning that Brooke Mosher is finally playing the position he recruited her to play. After redshirting in 2021 behind Diana Brown, Mosher wound up in the Illinois rotation playing opposite and outside hitter in 2022. But even though she's back in her natural position, the 6-foot redshirt sophomore setter still isn't just a setter. Mosher hit in multiple rotations during Saturday's match at NIU and finished with 40 assists, 10 digs, four kills, two aces and two blocks.

"I think one of the things she brings is still a lot of flexibility," Tamas said. "We had her hit in a couple rotations. She's active at the net. She's taught herself how to hit left-handed, so she can hit both righty and lefty, and she can do it on command. It's pretty impressive to watch. She's probably the most talented volleyball player — just all around — that I've been around."

Scheduling matters: Packed slateTuesday night's home opener against Valparaiso will be followed by a pair of weekend matches at Huff Hall. Illinois will play Wichita State at 5 p.m. Friday and Illinois State at 1 p.m. Sunday. The Illini got away from three-matches-in-two-days-style tournaments this season when the NCAA changed a rule giving 32 days of nonconference competition instead of 28. That means avoiding two matches in a single day, but the replacement is more competition during the week. Staying semi-local when piecing together the nonconference schedule helps.

"We can get to teams in a day, come back and still find quality opponents," Tamas said. "I think it's a good thing. ... It comes up a little bit faster. (Sunday) was off. (Monday) was prep for Valpo. (Tuesday) is Valpo. Then slight rest, but you've still got to get your reps in and tinker with what works and what doesn't work and go from there. It's probably a little more prep work and a little less being on the floor, which is not always ideal, but every coach is going through it right now."