Women's Volleyball
No. 6 Washington Tops No. 14 Illinois at Stuff Huff

Julia Conard recorded 10 digs in her first start of the season.
Julia Conard recorded 10 digs in her first start of the season.

Sept. 13, 2013

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Champaign, Ill. - The No. 14 Fighting Illini hosted No. 6 Washington on opening night in front of a packed house of 3,538 fans for the annual "Stuff Huff" event. Illinois hung tough with the powerful Husky squad, but UW left with its record unblemished, claiming the match 3-1 (25-21, 22-25, 25-19, 25-13) and improving to 5-0 on the year. Illinois, who took its first-ever loss at Stuff Huff (though also hosted its toughest opponent yet), drops to 4-3.

"I thought we fought hard, but we didn't execute very well," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "We lost the serve/receive battle on both sides of that. I think we had too many errors in the third and fourth set and because of that we started serving easy and we can't do that because they get going offensively and they did that as you see. We didn't pass great and because we didn't pass great it became very simple and easy to stop. It's always going to come down to that battle and we didn't do a great job."

Jocelynn Birks led the Illini offense with 15 kills and Liz McMahon chipped in 11. Anna Dorn returned to the starting lineup and hit .455 with seven kills and three blocks, and Katie Stadick who came in for Maddie Mayers to start the second set, hit .444 with five kills.

Alexis Viliunas tabbed her second double-double of the day with 38 assists and a team-high 14 digs, and libero Jennifer Beltran put up 13. Julia Conard made her first start of the season in the back row, registering 10 digs on the night including seven in the first set alone, and Ali Stark also recorded 10 digs, adding two aces and four kills.

The Illinois block was silenced in the match, as the Illini put up a season-low five stuffs, getting out-blocked 10.5 to 5.

Krista Vansant led Washington's offense with 19 kills, Jenna Orlandini had a match-high 18 digs and Lianna Sybeldon led the Huskies with six block assists.

"I think we struggled to get our hands on balls and Vansant we didn't have an answer for, she was really good," said Hambly. "They have great tempo and they took advantage of that tempo. When you talk about defense, it really starts with the serve. I think everyone looks at blocking, but the serve is the first line of defense and when you lose that battle, it's going to be hard to stop people especially with as many weapons as they have. They did a nice job of spreading it around and keeping us on our heels."

Illinois took the first real lead of match, going ahead 7-5. However a sequence of errors allowed Washington to pull ahead, 9-7. Illinois tied the score at nine, but the Huskies pushed right back up 13-10 and soon lead 22-18. An Illinois block put the momentum with the Orange and Blue, who brought the score within one, 22-21, but two kills by Vansant made it set point and Melanie Wade hammered it shut, as Washington took the first frame, 25-22.

The Illini rebounded in the second set, opening up a 9-6 lead early. Washington continued to battle, forcing a 15-15 tie off an ace by Vansant. However, an attack error put the serve in Courtney Abrahamovich's hands, who would go on to serve out a 5-0 Illinois run to give the Orange and Blue a comfortable 20-15 lead. A kill by McMahon gave Illinois its first set point, 24-18, but UW refused to back down. The Huskies erased four set points, but a service error by Cassie Strickland finished out the stanza in Illinois' favor, 25-22.

Washington to a small lead early in the third and maintained it through the full frame, soon opening up to 16-11. Illinois clamored back to pull within two, 20-18, but UW took back control and claimed the set, 25-19, with late kills by four different players.

UW won the first five points of the fourth set, and the Illini were unable to record, getting out-hit .500 to .087 to drop the fourth and final stanza, 25-13.

The Illini are back in action Saturday night when they host the defending National Champion No. 2 Texas Longhorns in the final match of the Illini Classic. Illinois has a 7-6 edge on the all-time series with Texas, but the Longhorns will be looking to avenge their 2012 loss to the Illini as well as their defeat at the hands of Arizona State this evening. First serve is set for 7 p.m.