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Battleground State Series: Illinois

Battleground State Series:  Illinois

Battleground State Series: Illinois

Welcome back to another addition of Battleground States. In this series we discuss states that could see some of the hottest recruiting battles for the Class of 2026. This week we will focus on Illinois, which is home to 13 D1 Programs and in the Heart of Volleyball Country.

State of Illinois Division 1 Programs (13)

  • Bradley University (MVC)- Peoria, IL
  • Chicago State University (IND)- Chicago, IL
  • DePaul University (Big East)- Chicago, IL
  • Eastern Illinois (OVC)- Charleston, IL
  • University of Illinois (Big 10)- Champaign, IL
  • Illinois State University (MVC)- Normal, IL 
  • Loyola University Chicago (A10)- Chicago, IL
  • Northern Illinois Unviersity (MAC)- DeKalb, IL
  • Northwestern University (Big 10)- Evanston, IL
  • Southern Illinois Unviersity (MVC)- Carbondale, IL
  • SIU Edwardsville (OVC)- Edwardsville, IL
  • University of Illinois Chicago (MVC)- Chicago, IL
  • Western Illinois University (OVC)- Macomb, IL

Illinois holds two Power 5 schools in Illinois and Northwestern, both are in the Big 10. With Illinois having the strongest volleyball history. 

State of Illinois Recruiting Trends:


State’s #1 Player Committed: Florida

State Top 10’s Prospects Signed In-State: 2

State Top 10’s Prospects that Signed with “Big 3”: 0

State  Top 10 Prospects that Committed to Traditional Top 25 Programs: 3


State’s #1 Player Committed: Michigan

State Top 10’s Prospects Signed In-State: 1

State Top 10’s Prospects that Signed with “Big 3”: 0

State  Top 10 Prospects that Committed to Traditional Top 25 Programs: 3


State’s #1 Player Committed: Texas

State Top 10’s Prospects Signed In-State: 2

State Top 10’s Prospects that Signed with “Big 3”: 1

State  Top 10 Prospects that Committed to Traditional Top 25 Programs: 5

State of Illinois Recruiting Label= Regional Hotbed

Most of Illinois top recruits have ended up at schools in bordering states. This is likely because Illinois is surrounded by top Big 10, ACC, and Big 12 talent, so players can stay close to home and play with top competition like Ohio. Regional recruiting continues to win out here, although 2025 was a big year for the state nationally. 

ILLINOIS Class of 2026 Recruiting Prospect Notes:

Carolyn Tarnow, MB, 1st Alliance

Tarnow is the consensus #1 prospect in Illinois. She’s a 6’4 Middle that is a brick wall up front and she had over 220 kills last year. Tarnow is the leader of a strong 1st Alliance team that is always stacked with college prospects and is always been heavily recruited. 

In the past two classes, the top four Illinois recruits have all been from 1st Alliance and they have all ended up at Power 5 schools. With 4 of them going to the Big 10. Abby Vander Wal the #1 last year committed to Texas. 

However, it is a hard trend to track as Tarnow is the first highly ranked middle blocker out of Illinois. In the past two years, no middle has ever been in the top 10 of state rankings. 

The most recent middle was in the 2023 class when Catherine Burke was the #4 player in the state and went to Penn State. 

Tarnow would be the prospect to get the national looks, but there are so many regional powers that produce big-time MB’s there is a great chance she stays regional.. 

Nikolija Bulatovic, S, 1st Alliance

Being the top setter in a regional hotbed state basically assures you Power 5 top 25 Program offers. Three of the past 4 top-ranked Illinois Setters have landed at Wisconsin, Marquette, and Penn State with (the other committed to Memphis). So, it can be inferred that Bulatovic will have a lot of big time offers and most will be Power 5 programs that are driving distance from her front-door.

She’s impressed a lot of people at NTDP programs and has been the setter for that stacked 1st Alliance team mentioned previously. Bulatovic’s stock will only continue to grow, but she’s put herself firmly as #1 at her position in Illinois. 

Haley Burgdorf, OH, Sports Performance

Burgdorf comes from Sports Performance who have started to put themselves in the national spotlight recently. After years of not even being a top 3 club in the state, their performances recently have probably put them squarely in the #2 spot. They have four girls in the top 10 in 2026 including Burgdorf, who is the #1 OH. 

Burgdorf was a star at the TC NIT in KC, leading Sports Performance to a 3rd place finish in the 16 Elite division. A surprising run that saw them upset TAV and Dallas Skyline. She was a beast at the TC NIT and really put herself on the map. 

She will get major offers from local schools. This seems like a lock for in-state schools to make a run, but her talent level will gain her offers from regional power 5s and even some big schools outside the drivable region.  This could be the most interesting recruiting battle in the state.. 

Ellie Stiernagle, S, Sports Performance

Keeping the SPVB club running, Stiernagle brings up an interesting case for Illinois as this is the first time in a while that the state has had two highly ranked setters. 

Quality Setters that lead top-ranked national club teams are usually highly-sought after.  It will be up to Ellie to determine does she stay home or go as she will have opportunities to do both. 

Stiernagle should not be overlooked, she is a 6’1 S, who has the height to do everything on the floor. She has already attended camps at big time schools like Maryland, Northwestern and Auburn, so she is getting looked at P5 Schools. 

Madison Anspaugh, OH, VC United

Anspaugh is the first highly rated VC United player in a few years. Most top VC United players have ended up staying in state and going to a smaller schools. The top VC United player of the 2025’s, Devynn Schulze went to Illinois State, but the last time VC United had this highly recruited of a player, she went to Marquette, so there is precedent that Anspaugh get in-state looks, but how many regional programs reach out could determine how difficult her decision ends up being.. 

Anspaugh nearly had 400 kills this past year, with 300 the year before, so she is continuing to improve each and every year. VC United has got a star in their midst, but where she will end up is definitely up in the air. 

State of the State

This class is not as deep as it was in the 2025 where their entire top 10 went to P5 schools, but they definitely have some talented players, and even though there isn’t precedent for Northwestern or Illinois, they would definitely love to keep some of these players home. With a new coaching staff at Northwestern you could see them make a run at a couple local kids for sure.

Zachary Tipton