Review: The old saying that defense wins championships held true for eighth-ranked Illinois last weekend. The No. 8 Fighting Illini secured the victory at the BYU/Nike Invitational behind three victories in Provo, Utah. First, the Illini took care of BYU on Friday, 28-26, 25-22, 25-16, in front of a boisterous crowd of over 2,700. That marked the 11th-straight year that Illinois has won an opener. All-American outside hitters Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward paced the way with 13 and 10 kills, respectively.
On Saturday, Illinois had to rally to win set one, but was in control for most of the final two sets against St. Mary's, a team receiving votes in the first AVCA Coaches poll, to win by the score of 25-17, 25-15, 25-21. Then the Illini bounced back from dropping a set to top UCSB, 19-25, 25-14, 25-19, 25-18.
Illinois hit .270 overall in three matches on the weekend and averaged 3.1 blocks per set. Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward each had 40 kills in three victories while junior Annie Luhrsen averaged 11.8 assists per set in her first starts at setter. Bartsch had nine of her 13 blocks on the weekend in the victory over St. Mary's. Opponents hit just .102 against the Illini in the three matches. The Illini's middle blockers were strong. Redshirt-freshman Anna Dorn had 15 block assists, added 14 kills and hit .520 in her first career weekend as a starter. Junior Erin Johnson, meanwhile, hit .426 with 25 kills and 13 blocks.
On Friday, sophomore Jazmine Orozco came up big for the Illini. Hitting from both the right and left side, Orozco came off the bench to hit .714 with five kills and a block as Illinois shook off some first-match jitters.
In the third set, Illinois got a strong performance from both of their middle hitters. Johnson had five of her nine kills in the third set to go along with four blocks on the night. Dorn had five kills and three blocks for the match while hitting .500. Luhrsen made her first start in an Illinois uniform and tallied 37 kills and five digs. Luhrsen and Johnson were critical in helping slow down the BYU outsider hitters, with three block assists.
In Illinois' first match on Saturday, the Illini out-blocked St. Mary's 16-3.5 behind nine individual blocks from Bartsch, seven from Johnson and six from Dorn. The Illini played the first set without a hitting error and hit .382 and .381, respectively, in the first two sets.
The Illini had a big run in all three sets. Leading 17-15 in the opening frame, the Illini scored six straight points, the last five off the serve of Ward and three on back-to-back-to-back blocks. In the second set, Illinois used a 7-1 run to move from a 10-9 lead to a 17-10 cushion. Then, in the third set, hitting close to .000 for much of the set, Illinois trailed 13-10 before scoring seven straight on the serve of Rachel Feldman. After a brief 3-0 run by the Gaels, the Illini scored four straight to take a comfortable 21-16 advantage.
Feldman got the start for Illinois at libero in the second match of the day and had a solid effort. She returned all six service attempts and had 31 digs, which are tied for 10th in a single match in school history and bettered her career high of 26 she posted in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament.
Preview: Illinois hosts the State Farm Illini Classic this weekend, an event that will include three ranked teams - Illinois, Dayton and Tennessee along with Houston. The tournament starts with the Stuff Huff match pitting Illinois and Tennessee at 7 p.m. on Sept. 2.
No. 19 Soccer (4-0-0)
Review: The No. 19 Illini soccer team remained undefeated with a pair of wins at Ball State and Louisville last weekend, topping UL in overtime. Illinois cruised past BSU in its first road game of the season, 5-0, on Friday and edged Louisville, 2-1, on Sunday.
Junior Niki Read had a career day against BSU, finishing with three goals and an assist in only 53 minutes of action. Sophomore Vanessa DiBernardo and freshman Stephanie Pouse each added one tally during the blowout, with DiBernardo securing the eventual game-winner.
DiBernardo, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, got the Illini on the board in the 25th minute. Only two and a half minutes later, Read tallied her first goal of the contest to double the Illinois lead. Read forced a turnover outside the BSU goalie box and converted a shot from the edge of the 18-yard box for her second goal of the season. Read earned her second goal of the game two minutes later at the 30:25 mark. She controlled the ball on the wing before cutting into the center of the field. As Read raced into the 18-yard box, the Lake Orion, Mich., native placed a low shot into the corner for her first collegiate multi-goal game and a 3-0 advantage entering halftime.
Read continued to dominate the Ball State defense in the second half, becoming the ninth Illini to record three goals in a single game. In the 66th minute, Read maneuvered around the only defender between her and the goal and connected on a shot from just outside the top of the goalie box. With the third goal, Read became the first Illini with three or more tallies in a game since DiBernardo earned four against Purdue on Oct. 1, 2010. Read also tied the mark for the second-most points (7) in a single contest with the third strike of the game. Pouse added Illinois' final goal when she secured a turnover from the Ball State defense and blasted a 25-yard shot over the BSU goalie.
On Sunday, Illinois fought back from a one-goal deficit to come away victorious at Louisville, 2-1, in overtime. Sophomore forward Megan Pawloski and junior forward Shayla Mutz each tallied a goal on the contest, with Mutz's coming four minutes into overtime to secure the win.
Louisville earned the first mark of the contest in the 24th minute, with Jordan Pawlik chipping a 12-yard shot into the net on a breakaway. To even the score at 1-1, Pawloski totaled her first goal of the season at the 78:17 mark. The Illini continued to fight over the final 12 minutes of regulation, with Marissa Mykines, Julie Ewing and Kassidy Brown all placing shots on frame. However, Louisville's goalie, Chloe Kiefer, was able to turn aside each attempt to limit Illinois to one tally. In overtime, Mutz totaled her first goal of the season to end the contest at the 94:21 mark. Mutz dribbled into the 18-yard box from the left side and shot into the upper-right corner to record the difference-maker.
Preview: The Illini return to action on Friday, Aug. 26 at Illinois Soccer Stadium with a 7 p.m. CT contest against USC to open Illini/Boilermaker Cup Challenge Presented by Gameday Spirit play. The Orange and Blue will then face Colorado on Sunday, Aug. 28 at 1 p.m.
Women's Cross Country
Preview: The Illini kick off their season with the Illini Challenge on Friday, Sept. 2 at the University of Illinois Arboretum. The women's 4K race will begin at 5 p.m.
Men's Cross Country
Preview: The Illini kick off their season with the Illini Challenge on Friday, Sept. 2 at the University of Illinois Arboretum. The men's 6K race will begin at 5:30 p.m.