Illinois Holds Off No. 6 Longhorns, Claims 5-Set Victory in Texas
Sept. 14, 2012
Austin, Texas - The Fighting Illini stood tall this evening, as they powered past the No. 6 University of Texas Longhorns in five sets (18-25, 25-21, 25-21, 19-25, 15-13) to claim a win over the first top-10 opponent on their 2012 slate. Anna Dorn hit .706 and Jocelynn Birks earned her first career double-double in the milestone victory. With the win, the Illini improve to 4-4 (0-0 Big Ten), while the Longhorns fall to 7-3 (0-1 Big 12).
Redshirt freshman Jocelynn Birks led the Illini in kills (21) for the third straight match and had a career-high 12 digs to record her first-ever double-double, the second of the season for the Illini. Anna Dorn was nearly flawless in the front row, smashing 12 kills on 17 touches with no errors to hit a career-high .706, also a season high for the Illini.
Liz McMahon tied her career high with a team-season-high 11 block assists, while adding eight kills. Erin Johnson notched eight block assists and a block solo and put up five kills, and Dorn added an additional seven block assists to contribute to the team's best blocking performance of the year, with 16.5.
Haley Eckerman led the Longhorns' offense with 17 kills and was a dig shy of a double-double, with nine. Bailey Webster put up 14 kills, Khat Bell tossed in 11, and Molly McCage stuff seven block assists.
The Longhorns won the first three points of the first set, and held onto the lead for the rest of frame. Jocelynn Birks recorded the first Illinois kill, but the Longhorns responded with the next two points to lead 5-1. The Illini pulled back within two, 9-7, but back-to-back points for Texas led to the first Illinois timeout, down 11-7. After the break, Birks smashed two-straight kills, followed by one from Annie Luhrsen to get the Illini within one, 11-10, but Texas replied with a four-point run to make it 15-10. Illinois did not go quietly, but eventually dropped the set by a score of 25-18.
Illinois won the first two points of the second set, and quickly cruised to a 12-4 lead behind two kills and a block Liz McMahon and a pair of service aces from Luhrsen and Beltran. However, the Longhorns stormed back, winning nine of the next 11 points to pull within one, 14-13. A Birks kill kept the Longhorns from tying the score, but Texas continued to battle, and soon the score read 21-18. A kill apiece from Stark, Birks and Johnson made it set point for the Illini, 24-19, and after two Longhorn scores, Birks closed it out with her seventh kill of the set to tie the match at one, 25-21.
In contrast to the first two sets, the third frame featured six ties. For the second-straight set, the Illini opened with a Birks kill. The Longhorns scored the next three straight, but the Illini followed with the next four, including back-to-back aces from Beltran, to regain the lead, 5-4. The set was neck-and-neck, and soon the score was knotted at 12, but the Illini never again trailed, and a Birks kill started a three-point run to make it 15-12. The Longhorns stayed in it, but 7.5 blocks from the Illini and another seven kills from Birks kept Illinois on top, and once again, Birks finished them off with the final kill as the Illini won set three, 25-21.
The Illini held a narrow lead throughout the majority of the fourth set, but a late push by the Longhorns driven by a tremendous serving run by Kat Brooks, kept Texas in the match and forced a tiebreaking fifth set. The Illini won the first two points on kills by Stark and Johnson, but the Longhorns kept the score close, tying the score seven times until the set was knotted at 17 all. Kat Brooks then stepped behind the line and served up seven-straight points, including three aces, to give the `Horns a 23-17 advantage, and a service error by Johnson tied the match at two sets apiece with a 25-19 Texas win.
Illinois took the first lead in the fifth set, opening up with a 4-1 lead off kills by Dorn, Birks and McMahon. However, after a Texas timeout, the Longhorns scored five of the next six to take a 6-5 lead. Back-to-back setting errors by Hannah Allison gave the advantage back to the Illini, but Sha'Dare McNeal's killed tied it at seven. The two teams traded points over the next 10 plays, and soon the score was 12-12. A pair of Illinois blocks made it match point, and after McNeal kill kept the `Horns alive, Stark finished them off with a kill from Luhrsen to give the Illini their first 5-set victory of the season.
No. 6 Texas is the highest ranked team the Illini have met so far this season and the first to be ranked in the top 10. Illinois fell to No. 4 UCLA in the 2011 NCAA Championship in their last top-10 matchup just two days after downing No. 1 USC. The Illini's last regular-season top-10 victory came over No. 9 Penn State (3-0) on Nov. 11, 2011, when Illinois was ranked No. 7.
The Illini return to action tomorrow for a pair of neutral matches in Gregory Gym. Illinois will face UCF for the first time in school history at 9 a.m., before taking on Cincinnati for the second time in as many weeks at 7 p.m. Both matches will be broadcast online on the Illini Radio Network, with the night match also airing on WDWS AM 1400 in Champaign.