Annie Luhrsen helped Illinois hit .408 as a team Friday night.
Sept. 16, 2011
Champaign, Ill. - No. 3 Illinois put forth its most complete match of the season, dominating from start to finish in a 25-16, 25-14, 25-12 victory over Cincinnati at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge Friday night at Huff Hall. In the process, the Illini start 10-0 in a season for just the second time in school history ahead of Saturday's match with Louisville.
Illinois took the lead early in all three sets and were never headed. The final stats demonstrate just how dominating an effort it was. The Illini had their best attack percentage of the season, hitting an impressive .405 for the match, including a .458 clip in the second set, while holding Cincinnati (7-5), a team that advanced to the NCAA second round last season, to hit -.061. Illinois out-blocked the Bearcats, 9-1, and held slight advantages in both digs (37-34) and aces (4-0). Illinois had just four hitting errors in the match.
Senior All-American Michelle Bartsch paved the way with 10 kills while hitting .417. Junior middle blocker Erin Johnson hit .444 with nine kills and five blocks. Sophomore Jennifer Beltran had 11 digs, returned all nine serves hit to her successfully and tallied an assist. Junior Annie Luhrsen has 33 assists in spreading the wealth.
"Overall everyone was just supporting each other a lot and that's what helped us succeed tonight," Luhrsen said. "We've been working really hard during practice this week, especially on our game focus. We understood we had to step up our game and we did."
When asked if this was the best match her team played all season, Beltran responded, "I'd say up to this point, yes. I think we have a long road ahead of us, so we're working on it."
Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly played three freshmen with starter Liz McMahon contributing five kills without an error and three blocks; Morganne Criswell impressing the crowd with three straight kills, and Ali Stark coming into to serve and play back row defense late in the third set. Over the last two weekends, McMahon has started to put it together offensively, hitting .446 with 30 kills combined in the last four matches.
"I thought we competed hard," Hambly said. "We had a great defensive line which is something we talked about. It's nice to see everything pull together."
Illinois meets Louisville (8-3) on Saturday night at 7 pm. The Cardinals took undefeated and 14th-ranked Purdue to the brink before falling in five sets in the opening match of the night. Purdue (10-0) meets Cincinnati in the Saturday's opener at 4:30 pm.
"They're feisty, they're athletic and they're good," Hambly said of Louisville. "They played great defense on Purdue and put a lot of pressure on them. I think we'll be in for a battle. We just hope we come out on top."