Liz McMahon had 14 kills in the victory over Ohio.
Aug. 25, 2012
Dayton, Ohio -
Jocelynn Birks had 19 kills and seven digs to pace No. 7 to a 25-23, 19-25, 25-22, 25-18 victory over Ohio in the Illini's final match of the Dayton Flyer Classic. Liz McMahon added 14 kills in Illinois' first win in three matches on the weekend and on the season.
Illinois is 1-2 after falling to Dayton in three sets on Friday and to No. 11 Pepperdine, 25-15, 25-21, 25-20 on Saturday morning. Birks and Criswell paced the Illini offense against the Waves with nine kills apiece, but the Illini allowed Pepperdine to hit .272, including .333 in the third set.
In all three matches of the weekend, the Illini improved their hitting percentage as the match went on, culminating in a .343 clip in set four vs. Ohio. The Illini were also able get more players involved in the offense in the victory. McMahon had six kills in the second set and improved to hit .229 for the match. Middle blocker Erin Johnson had four of her seven kills in the third set as Illinois again pulled out a tight one.
"We passed just a little bit better and kept the ball in play," Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said in the difference in the Ohio match vs. the previous two. "We were finding ways to lose early and tonight we found ways to win."
The Ohio match was tight in the first three sets. Set one included 13 ties with neither team able to get a lead larger than three points. The big swing came late in the set. With Ohio up 23-21, the Illini scored the final four points, including a kill and an ace from Birks, who had eight kills in the opening frame.
Illinois took an 11-7 lead in set two, only to see the Bobcats come back to take it 25-19. The Illini hit just .105 in the frame.
Middle blocker Anna Dorn had a solid weekend offensively, hitting .375 with 18 kills and nine blocks for the tournament, including nine kills vs. Ohio. With set three tied at 20-20, Liz McMahon played free and hit a couple of rockets to make it 22-20 Illini. Sophomore Morganne Criswell had the final two kills of the set.
"We got everyone going a little bit more in that third set," Hambly said. "We need that. We can't just set high, pass off the net and hit high balls all night and expect to win."
Illinois played with confidence in the fourth set and limited Ohio to an .083 hitting percentage. The Illini built leads of 17-11 and 20-12 before finishing off the Bobcats.
Birks, the redshirt freshman, finished the tournament with 44 kills and 14 digs and had two of the Illini's five aces on the weekend in her first action as an Illini.
"It was really exciting," Birks said of her collegiate debut. "I was a little nervous at first, but once I got in the match and started sweating a little bit, I was fine. I'm so excited to actually be in the jersey now (instead of warm-ups)."
"Birks showed that she could be offensive and be special, but she also showed she is a freshman and can make a lot of mistakes," Hambly said.
In the opening match of the day, the Illini hit -.032 in the first set, but recovered to take a 12-6 lead in the second. Pepperdine recovered behind the arms of middle blocker Samantha Cash (14 kills) and former Illini Jazmine Orozco (11) to take the final two sets. The Illini had better play at the net to out-block the Waves 10-7, paced by six block assists from Dorn.
It doesn't get any easier for Illinois as it hosts No. 10 Iowa State at Huff Hall next weekend. The Stuff Huff match is Friday at 7 p.m. with the teams also squaring off at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
"We're a work in progress," Hambly said after the first weekend. "That's where we are going to be for a while. We have a lot to learn. We're going to have to get better every night, which I think we already have. I think we are starting to discover some things about how we need to play to be successful."