Illini Win Another Tight Battle
Sept. 17, 2011
Champaign, Ill. - For the third straight weekend, No. 3 Illinois had to battle to post a five-set victory, but once again the Illini made the big plays when they had to in a 25-20, 23-25, 25-20, 21-25, 15-9 win over Louisville in the final match of the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.
Illinois finishes the non-conference schedule at 11-0, having also defeated No. 21 Dayton and Tulsa in the championship matches of the last two tournaments in five sets.
"Ending non-conference 11-0 is great," Hambly said. "We've been in some tough battles. We've shown signs of what we want to be in December. We just have to stay with this process. Over time, I love the potential of this team. We have so many weapons. When we start to steady out and solidify our system, which will happen in the Big Ten, we're going to take some big strides forward."
Freshman Liz McMahon had her best match as an Illini, hitting .576 with 20 kills. Colleen Ward had 19 kills while hitting .311. Michelle Bartsch, who had 12 kills on the night, earned her third tournament MVP award. McMahon was also named to the all-tournament team.
"I give a lot of credit to Annie (Luhrsen) for getting me one-on-one with the blockers, especially at the end of the match," McMahon said. "We've been working hard all week at connecting and it felt really good tonight."
"Tonight Liz was smart with all her shots and when she was in rhythm taking huge swings," Bartsch said. "When we needed it most, Liz came through tonight and did an awesome job."
McMahon had just one attack error in 33 swings, including seven kills in nine swings in the pivotal third set. After dropping set two, Illinois never trailed in set three. The Illini, who hit .258 on the night overall, were especially potent in that set, posting a .438 attack percentage.
Louisville, who also lost in five sets to No. 14 Purdue on Friday, fought back behind the arm of Lola Arslanbekova, who represented the Cardinals on the all-tournament team. Arslanbekova had 30 kills on the night, including 16 in the two sets her team won. She had 19 swings in the fourth set alone, leading to seven kills as Louisville took the frame to force the fifth set.
The rest of the all-tournament team included Cincinnati's Missy Harpenau and Purdue's Ariel Turner and Catherine Rebarchak.
Much like set three, the Illini bounced back with a vengeance to win the deciding set five, jumping to leads of 3-0 and 6-2 and never trailing. The Illini had two blocks in set five, but the presence of the tall front line forced Louisville to hit .000 in the fifth. Arslanbekova took 12 of Louisville's 19 swings in set five and had as many kills (4) as errors.
"We got them out of system a lot on their serves and stopped some of their key players at crucial times," Bartsch added.
In addition to her offense, McMahon led a strong defensive effort, teaming on seven of the Illini's 12.5 blocks on the night. Junior Erin Johnson and redshirt freshman Anna Dorn were in on six and five bocks, respectively.
"She saved us," Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said of McMahon's performance. "We were just so tense a times. I thought she was the stabilizer for us. I think we set her six times in a row for side-outs. We're going to need her when it comes to Big Ten."
Conference play opens tough for Illinois, with a match at No. 9 Minnesota on Sept. 23.