Illini Defeat Illinois State In Four Games In Season Opener
Aug. 29, 2003
Normal, Ill. -
Illinois opened the 2003 volleyball season on the road tonight, traveling to the campus of Illinois State University to face the host Redbirds in the Barker GMC Classic. Illinois showcased its spirit and competitive fire throughout the match, rallying back from a number of deficits to eventually defeat ISU in four games by the score of 29-31, 30-27, 31-29, 30-24 in front of 2,688 fans in attendance at Redbird Arena.
Illinois' starting outside hitters heated up after a slow start, as senior Melissa Vandrey and sophomore Rachel VanMeter combined for 36 kills on the evening. Vandrey registered a team-high 19 kills while VanMeter set a new career high with 17 kills, eclipsing her previous career best of 13 set at Purdue last season. Vandrey finished with an impressive .316 hitting percentage for the match.
Illinois' offense ran smoothly behind new starting setter, junior Erin Virtue. Virtue recorded 61 assists while all five of her hitters who played in the match reached double figures in kills. Joining Vandrey and VanMeter was junior Jessica Belter (12 kills) and seniors Lisa Argabright and Shelly O'Bryan (11 kills each). O'Bryan hit a team-high .519 while Belter hit .375. Argabright, who hit .370, recorded a match-high seven blocks in helping lead the Illini to a 15-to-7 team blocking advantage over the Redbirds. Lauren Harks was the sole UI player to record double figures in digs with a team-high 13.
The Illini showcased a number of comebacks during the match. Illinois trailed 25-29 in game one but then scored four straight points to tie it at 29-all before dropping the game 29-31. In game two, Illinois trailed 25-27 but then rattled off five consecutive points for a 30-27 win and tie the match at 1-1. Game three was more of the same as the Illini trailed 27-29 but then scored four straight points for a 31-29 win. The Orange and Blue could finally relax somewhat in game four, as Illinois jumped out early and played with a large lead throughout the game, winning 30-24 to close out the match with a 3-games-to-1 victory.
"This was a great win in a tough environment," Head Coach Don Hardin said after Illinois clinched its fourth straight season-opening victory. "Illinois State was very keyed up for this match and showed they were prepared for us with their play. I thought we gained confidence as the match wore on and Erin Virtue really started to get in sync with her hitters. This team also showed its competitiveness by staging a number of comeback rallies. I love the attitude of our team right now."
Illinois closes out the Barker GMC Classic with a pair of matches Saturday at Redbird Arena. The Illini face No. 7 Nebraska at 10 a.m. and Clemson at 5 p.m.