After coaching Illinois to the NCAA championship match for the first time in school history and a 32-5 record, coach Kevin Hambly had a day off but felt like getting some work done Monday after the runner-up finish to UCLA and the team's return home Sunday. Like the Illini, he was also coping with coming so close to a national championship after the four-set loss Saturday in San Antonio.

CHAMPAIGN -- Illinois volleyball is just getting started.

After coaching Illinois to the NCAA championship match for the first time in school history and a 32-5 record, coach Kevin Hambly had a day off but felt like getting some work done Monday after the runner-up finish to UCLA and the team's return home Sunday. Like the Illini, he was also coping with coming so close to a national championship after the four-set loss Saturday in San Antonio.

"In some ways, it's really exciting,'' he said. "In some ways, it's harder. We made the breakthrough from the Sweet 16, but it's frustrating just not for me but for the girls.''

From here, the Illini lose first-team All-America Colleen Ward and third-teamer Michelle Bartsch, a pair of outside hitters, to graduation, and the Illini will be much younger next season. Nevertheless, Hambly has some talent stacked in the lower classes, and Illinois could blossom next season.

Hambly thinks the Illini will contend for the national title in 2013, when Illinois also hosts regional semifinal and championship rounds in Assembly Hall. The Illini would love to play here on campus for a trip to the Final Four.

The program's first Final Four appearance since 1988 isn't expected to dramatically change Illini recruiting. Hambly concentrates on the Midwest, where recruits are likely a better fit. While he already gets to most of the top level recruits, this year's success may open a few more doors.

"We recruit the country, but we have a better shot in the Midwest,'' Hambly said. "We're in the middle of cornfields. There's nothing sexy about Illinois, nothing sexy about how we play. We're blue collar. It fits Illinois and the type of kids we're going to get here.

"I'm from California, but my background is more blue collar and hard-working. The big thing is getting kids who fit here.''

Freshmen Jocelynn Birks, Ali Stark, Liz McMahon and Morgan Criswell, who formed the bulk of a recruiting class ranked in the top 10 nationally, join Jazmine Orozco, who will return as a redshirt sophomore, to form the next nucleus.

"What's going to end up happening next year is we'll be very talented and exciting with great athletes flying around,'' Hambly said. "We're going to be error prone early. By the time we hit the NCAA Tournament, we can make a nice run.''

Hambly plans to stick around. He agreed to a five-year contract extension that keeps him here through 2017. Now, he just needs a day off. Hambly will relax later in the week with a trip to St. Louis for the Braggin' Rights basketball game against Missouri.

FOOTBALL: Illini fullback Jay Prosch is doubtful for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl after suffering from a staph infection in his knee that forced him to the hospital. It's unclear if he needed surgery to remove the infection, but his status for the bowl game against UCLA on Dec. 31 appears unlikely.

Freshman wide receiver Anthony Williams was left off the bowl roster and told to head home by interim coach Vic Koenning. Freshman linebacker Darius Caldwell didn't meet academic requirements to play in the bowl game and was allowed to head home. The Illini would like to keep Caldwell in the program.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: The Illini women's basketball team is on a nine-game, 43-day swing away from Assembly Hall. The Illini women defeated Montana State 68-56 Monday in Las Vegas. Illinois plays Dayton there Tuesday before returning home against Alabama A&M on Dec. 28. The Illini (5-6) are 3-5 on the road swing.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.