Serving up some Sweet 16 storylines

Beat writer Scott Richey breaks down today’s Sweet 16 matches at Huff Hall in Champaign:

Illinois (30-3) vs. Marquette (28-6), 11 a.m.

Three Illinois players to watch

1. Senior Jordyn Poulter, a 6-foot-2 setter, has put quite the finish on her Illinois career. The stats and awards speak for themselves. She’s the third Illini setter to reach 5,000 career assists, but the first to top 400 blocks and 1,000 digs.

2. Senior Ali Bastianelli, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker, claimed her spot atop the Illinois record books for blocks and became just the third Big Ten player to exceed 700 career blocks. She’s currently at 735 — and counting.

3. Junior Jacqueline Quade, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter, put together a breakout 2018 season. A full six-rotation player for the first time as an Illini, the Fort Wayne, Ind., native has 495 kills and 233 digs so far this season.

Illinois’ coach is … Chris Tamas. The second-year Illini coach has a 53-14 record in charge of Illinois.

From Tamas: “Here we are. Not sure at the beginning of the season any of us would have predicted that we’d be hosting regionals here in Huff Hall, but we’ve been beating expectations ever since I came here last year. … Nothing surprises me anymore with this team. They just get in, they get after it and it’s just a pleasure working with them every day.”

Three Marquette players to watch

1. Junior Allie Barber, a 6-foot-5 outside hitter, led the Big East with 523 kills — edging out a pair of Creighton teammates. Barber was also efficient, ranking second in the conference with a .356 hitting percentage.

2. Redshirt senior Jenna Rosenthal, a 6-foot-6 middle blocker, was the only Big East player more efficient in the attack than Barber. After playing for Tamas on the U.S. Collegiate National team in China, Rosenthal put up 279 kills and 110 blocks.

3. Sophomore Martha Konovodoff, a 5-foot-7 libero, ranked third in the Big East in digs per set during the regular season. The Sugar Grove native, Rosary grad and 2016 N-G All-State honorable-mention pick has 544 digs on the season.

Marquette’s coach is … Ryan Theis. The fifth-year Golden Eagles coach has a 119-46 record in charge of Marquette.

From Theis: “We weren’t ducking anybody in scheduling this preseason. We wanted to schedule hard. We thought we’d have a chance to try and grab a seed with this group, so we went after it and played a really difficult preseason. We had a lot of really good matches in the preseason — won some, lost some — but I think it’s helped us prepare for this weekend for sure.”

Wisconsin (24-6) vs. San Diego (18-12), 1:30 p.m.

Three Wisconsin players to watch

1. Sophomore Dana Rettke, a 6-foot-8 middle blocker, was a unanimous All-Big Ten first-team pick. The 2017 N-G All-State Player of the Year was just as dominant in her second season in Madison, Wis., as her first with 408 kills and 170 blocks.

2. Sophomore Sydney Hilley, a 6-foot setter, had big shoes to fill when she joined the Badgers following Lauren Carlini’s graduation. In her second season as starter, the Brooklyn Park, Minn., leads the Big Ten with 11.94 assists per set.

3. Redshirt junior Madison Duello, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter, has had an uphill climb after tearing her ACL in 2016. She’s set career highs this season in multiple statistical categories, including kills (300) and digs (100).

Wisconsin’s coach is … Kelly Sheffield. The sixth-year Badgers coach has a 159-41 record in charge of Wisconsin.

From Sheffield: “You know that you’re going to have a full house (at Huff Hall) with great fans. The student group here is amongst the best in the country. … You know you’re going to play in front of people that understand the game and appreciate the game. I think this is one of the better places around in our sport.”

Three San Diego players to watch

1. Senior Addie Picha, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker and the Toreros’ lone All-WCC first-team honoree, ranks just outside the top 10 nationally with 1.50 blocks per set to check in 11th. The Puyallup, Wash., native also has 233 kills on the season.

2. Sophomore Roxie Wiblin, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter, leads the Toreros this season in kills with 304 and also ranks second on the team with 219 digs as a six-rotation player after earning All-WCC Freshman of the Year honors a year ago.

3. Freshman Katie Lukes, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter, ranks third on the team with 222 kills just a year removed from her second of consecutive South Coast League MVP honors playing for San Juan Hills High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

San Diego’s coach is … Jennifer Petrie. The 20th-year Toreros coach has a 389-141 record in charge of San Diego.

From Petrie: “We prepared ourselves. Everybody has seen our preseason schedule and the challenges that we faced. I think playing bigger teams, we’re well prepared for that. We’ll see how prepared we are for 6-8 (Rettke). It’s hard to prepare for that in your practice gym.”