No. 14 San Diego Tops No. 18 Illini, 3-1
Sep 7, 2013
Ames, Iowa - No. 14 San Diego captured its third-straight victory over a top-20 opponent this afternoon with a 3-1 win over No. 18 Illinois at the Iowa State Challenge. The Fighting Illini blocking unit out-stuffed the Toreros 15-6 in the match, but a balanced attack and strong defense by San Diego put USD over the edge, capturing the tightly-fought victory in four sets (25-21, 25-27, 25-20, 26-24). The Toreros improve to 4-1 on the year, while Illinois drops to 2-2.
"I thought they fought hard, but in the end they just didn't execute," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "We need to execute from the very beginning and fight hard right from the gate. We kept getting behind and had to fight our way back in every single set, and we can't play that way."
The Illini outside hitters led the attack with sophomore Jocelynn Birks putting up 18 kills and Liz McMahon adding 14 of her own. Birks struggled with accuracy early in the match, tallying five errors in the first set, but finished by going 8-for-13 with no missteps in the fourth frame to give Illinois an opportunity to send the match to five. McMahon had six kills and no errors in the second set to help lead the Illini to tie the match at one set apiece.
The blocking unit put up a total of 15 key stops for the Orange and Blue, led by Maddie Mayers with six. Anna Dorn registered five block assists and McMahon contributed five blocks as well, including a career-high three solo blocks. Sophomore setter Alexis Viliunas added four block assists to go along with 38 assists and seven digs.
Senior Jennifer Beltran led the back line with 16 digs, followed by sophomores Julia Conard and Ali Stark who each had nine. In a rare feat, every player who saw court time registered at least one dig in the match, with the exception of Kathryn Polkoff, who came in for Viliunas as a blocking specialist for a crucial play in the fourth.
The Illini also led the Toreros on serving, tallying seven aces, including three by McMahon, as compared to San Diego's two.
Across the court, San Diego led a balanced attack, with five Toreros tallying double-digit kills, including a team-high 17 for Lozic. Libero C'era Oliveira led the defense with 17 digs, while outsides Lozic and Taylor Hollins contributed 15 and 14, respectively.
"They're a great team," said Hambly. "I think they're the best team we've played. They present some major challenges offensively. They make their living by going fast to pins and we really struggled to stop them."
San Diego had the upper hand right from the start in the first set, opening the frame with a 6-1 lead. The Toreros extended the advantage to 11-4 before the Illini began to pull closer, 12-8. San Diego went back out in front 21-14, but the Orange and Blue refused to back down, as a late run pushed the Illini within two, 23-21, with the help of several blocks from the Illini, who totaled six in the set. However, despite the late surge, the Toreros were able to put the set away, 25-21 thanks to a solo block by Alaysia Brown.
The Illini led early in the second set, but a 5-0 run served out by Taylor Hollins pushed San Diego on top 12-8. A solid serving run by Courtney Abrahamovich pulled Illinois back within one, 17-16, but USD pushed right back ahead. At 22-19, Lozic made a pair of attack errors allowing Illinois back into the set, but a Brown kill kept the Illini from tying it up. Viliunas dumped it over on two on the next play to make it 23-22, but Hoekman came up with a crucial kill for Torero set-point, 24-22. However, the Illini did not back down, as back-to-back kills by McMahon tied the score at 24, making it anyone's game. Hoekman stabbed another key kill for the Toreros, but an attack error tied it at 25 and a third kill for McMahon gave Illinois its first set point. After erasing three set points for San Diego, the Illini only needed one chance, winning the set 27-25 on a USD error to tie the match at one set apiece.
The Toreros led 4-1 early in the third set then extended the lead to 11-5. Illinois forced its way back into the set, pulling within three, 13-10, on back-to-back aces by McMahon, but the Orange and Blue were unable to tie the score, falling back 15-11. A solo block by Mayers brought Illinois within two, 15-13, but that would be the closest the Illini would come as San Diego went on to win the set, 25-20.
The fourth set was neck-and-neck early, with Illinois taking the first real lead, 7-4. San Diego then won five of the next six points to take a 9-8 lead. The score continued to stay within one, neither team able to string together a big run, until kills by Birks and Stark made it 22-20 Illini. Chloe Ferrari came back from the USD timeout with a kill, but Birks slammed another to make it 23-21. A kill by Hoekman kept San Diego alive, and a badly-timed miscommunication on serve receive between Beltran and Birks gave Hunter Jennings an ace and tied the score at 23. Birks made up for it with a kill on the next play to give Illinois the first set point, but the Toreros won the next three points, including a kill and a block by Hoekman to seal up the victory in four sets, 26-24, and avoid going to five.
The Illini are back in action at 2 p.m. on Sunday, when they take on the host No. 11 Iowa State Cyclones in the final match of the Iowa State Challenge. The match can be heard on WDWS 1400 AM, and fans can watch live on Cyclones.TV (subscription required) or on TV in Iowa on the Cyclones' Cable Channel.