Rachel Feldman had the 10th most digs in a match in Illinois history with 31 vs. UCSB.
Aug. 27, 2011
Provo, Utah - The old saying that "Defense Wins Championships," held true for eighth-ranked Illinois this weekend. The Fighting Illini (3-0) secured the victory at the BYU/Nike Invitational behind a pair of victories on Saturday in Provo, Utah. First the Illini took care of St. Mary's, a team receiving votes in the first AVCA Coaches poll, in 80 minutes 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.
"I think we have a lot of potential," said Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly assessing the first weekend of the season. "We have the team we thought we did as far as talent, but we also have a lot of room for growth."
Illinois hit .270 overall in three matches on the weekend and averaged 3.10 blocks per set. Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward each had 40 kills in three victories while junior Annie Luhrsen averaged 11.80 assists per set in her first starts at setter. Bartsch had nine over 13 blocks in the victory over St. Mary's. Opponents hit just .102 against the Illini in the three matches. Bartsch was named tournament MVP with Ward earning all-tournament accolades as well.
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.
"I thought Annie Luhrsen did an excellent job of using our middles in transition against Santa Barbara," Hambly said. "I thought that especially in the St. Mary's match, that they blocked extremely well. They were all over the place against a team that is very difficult to close blocks against."
In the first match of the day, Illinois out-blocked St. Mary's, 16-3.5 behind nine individual blocks from Bartsch (2 solo), 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 U of I scored four straight to take a comfortable 21-16 advantage.
St. Mary's hit .000 for the match with 28 hitting errors. The Illini finished hitting .298 paced by 12 kills from Ward (.276) and 10 from Bartsch (.281). Middle blockers Johnson and Dorn each hit .500. Luhrsen had 31 assists and nine digs.
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 the 10th best 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.
"I thought she was a little shaky at first, but then she settled down and played great defense," Hambly said of Feldman's performance. "But most importantly she held us together. I think she'll do that all year."
Ward had 18 kills while hitting .304 followed closely by Bartsch's 17 kills. Luhrsen had 50 assists as the Illini had 166 total attacks in the four sets. Dorn had six blocks while sophomore Jazmine Orozco added four blocks.
While the Illini had 16 blocks in the first match, the Illini couldn't manage a single one in the first set vs. UCSB. The Gauchos took the first set 25-19 behind a .297 hitting percentage. Illinois hit .163 with nine hitting errors and two service errors. Stacie Schmidt paced UCSB with six kills. Bartsch's six kills weren't enough to put the Illini over the top. Illinois took an early 5-3 lead, but UCSB out-scored the Illini 8-2 to take an 11-7 lead. Illinois could get no closer than two points the rest of the way.
Illinois rebounded by taking the second set, forcing UCSB to hit -.069 with nine hitting errors. The Illini, who didn't have a block in that first set, had four in the second set. Orozco was in on three of them. The Illini built leads of 13-6 and 20-11, winning the set going away.
Illinois hit over .300 in each of the final two sets and again put together consecutive points at key stretches to win those sets. The Illini posted a .306 attack percentage in the third set, behind five kills and a .345 percentage individually from Bartsch. The Illini fell behind 14-10 before going on a 11-3 run, siding out three straight times.
Illinois never trailed in the fourth set, jumping to an 11-7 lead. Feldman was especially potent with 13 digs in the fourth set. Ward had four kills while hitting .444 in the set.
Illinois hosts the State Farm Illini Classic next weekend, an event that will include three ranked teams - Illinois, Dayton and Tennessee along with Houston, who is having an impressive first weekend of the year. The tournament starts with the Stuff Huff match pitting Illinois and Tennessee at 7 pm on Sept. 2.