No. 24 Louisville Edges No. 20 Illinois In Five Sets
Cincinnati, Ohio - No. 20 Illinois split its two matches at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge after losing a hard-fought 25-18, 23-25, 25-17, 22-25, 15-9 decision to No. 24 Louisville at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati Saturday afternoon. The Illini are now 1-4 vs. ranked teams and 3-4 overall on the season.
The Illini meet fourth-ranked Texas next Friday at the Time Warner Cable Invitational in Austin, Texas. Illinois also faces UCF and has a rematch with Cincinnati in that tournament.
Against Louisville, Illinois started slow in four of the five sets, but recovered to take set two and won a well-exected set four. Redshirt freshman Jocelynn Birks and sophomore Anna Dorn were each named to the all-tournament team. This was Dorn's second all-tournament honor of the season, after having also earned that distinction at the Dayton Flyer Classic.
Dorn hit .412 with nine kills and seven block assists. She also helped Illinois out-block the Cardinals, 16-9. Birks, meanwhile, led the team with 13 kills after tallying a career-best 25 kills in the win over Cincinnati on Friday.
Illinois hit .429 in the fourth set that included 14 ties and five lead-changes. Sophomore Liz McMahon had four kills in as many swings in the set while Dorn had four kills in five attempts.
"I thought we were playing at a high level in set four with good defense and a high side-out percentage (77 percent)," Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said.
The block was especially potent in the second set for Illinois. Louisville dominated the opening set then built leads of 13-8, 16-11 and 20-15 before the defense stepped up against a powerful Cardinal attack. Dorn and McMahon teamed on three blocks in the final four points as Illinois out-scored the Bearcats 10-3 down the stretch.
McMahon and senior Erin Johnson had big nights at the net with eight blocks apiece. McMahon added 11 kills while hitting .333.
Much of the night was spent trying to stop Louisville senior Lola Arslanbekova. The native of Uzbekistan led Louisville with 22 kills but also committed 13 errors thanks to a strong Illinois block.
"Our block was good at times and more importantly in order to give ourselves a chance, we held Lola down," Hambly said. "Anna and Liz both had really good matches and did a great job of doing what they were supposed to against Lola. Anna was a beast up there. They couldn't touch her at times. We just didn't execute in other phases of the game."
In the three sets Illinois lost, Louisville built big leads early -- 15-8 in set one, 20-10 in set three and 8-2 in set five. The Cardinals struggled at times offensively as well, hitting .253 with 27 attack errors for the match. Illinois wound up hitting .208.
"In sets one, three and five, we were trying to do too much," Hambly added. "We talked about just staying within ourselves and playing our game. I still like this team, we just have to mature"