Liz McMahon had six kills in the first set alone, finishing with 12 on the night.
Sept. 27, 2013
Champaign, Ill. - The Fighting Illini volleyball team opened Big Ten play in style, taking down Iowa, 3-0, in front of 7,061 fans at State Farm Center. It is the second-largest crowd in Illinois volleyball history, with the school record of 7,632 coming back in 2009 in a combined event with basketball's Illini Madness. After a recent skid against tough competition, the Orange and Blue righted the ship to defeat the neighboring Hawkeyes, 25-19, 25-18, 25-21. With the win, Illinois improves to 5-6 (1-0 Big Ten), while Iowa drops to 9-4 (0-1 Big Ten).
"It was nice to get a win," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "It was a great event here, and I was surprised and excited about the crowd turnout; 7,000 people! It's a fun place to play. The court didn't feel like a home match, but the crowd made it feel like it was.
"Overall, it was nice to get a win; the team was hurting for confidence after last weekend. It was nice to win and win in three, win decisively, where we didn't feel like we were going to lose at the end of sets. It'll probably be different when we get to Iowa because they're always tough at home. They're a scrappy, gritty team and (Sharon Dingman) does a great job coaching. Here at home in our first match of the Big Ten, our new season, it's a nice win."
In contrast to previous matches, strong serve receive allowed the Illini to greatly spread around the offense, as all six starters had roughly the same amount of kills. Liz McMahon led the match with 12 kills, followed next by fellow-outside Jocelynn Birks with nine. Morganne Criswell and Anna Dorn each had eight kills, as Dorn hit .583, while Maddie Mayers hit .417 with seven kills. Setter Alexis Viliunas was hot up front as well, going 6-for-7 to hit .857.
"We served really tough and got them out of system a lot," said Hambly. "We were streaky passing, had a couple streaks where we didn't pass great, but for the most part we passed really well, we got in system, we got our middles involved, and that really helped free stuff up. We haven't gotten to Anna [Dorn] twelve times in a while; we haven't set her many balls. We've had Maddie [Mayers] to use offensively, but this is the most balance we've had offensively in a few years."
The Illini tied their season high with eight aces. Birks nailed three, and five additional Illini each scored on a serve.
"I think serving well really worked for us," said Criswell, who nailed her first ace of the season tonight. "It really took them out of their offense and helped us get some points."
Birks also led the Orange and Blue on defense, tallying 10 digs, and Viliunas followed with seven. Criswell put up six from the back row, and libero Jennifer Beltran and defensive outside hitter Ali Stark each dug five. Additionally, DS Julia Conard tacked on four.
Junior outside Alex Lovell led Iowa's offense with 11 kills in the match. Setter Nikki Dailey was solid around the court, registering 17 assists, a team-high 12 digs and two aces, which were key in pulling the Hawkeyes back from big deficits. Libero Bethany Yeager registered 10 digs in the match, and Alessanda Dietz and Lauren Brobst led the front row defense, each with three block assists, while Dietz added one solo.
Iowa was successful in avoiding the Illini block, a unit that has been one of the best in the nation thus far, limiting the Illini front row to just two stuffs. Despite the Hawkeyes putting up six blocks, Illinois still hit .300 in the match, while holding Iowa to just .191.
Illinois jumped out to a quick start, leading 9-4 with the help of three kills by McMahon. An Iowa timeout at 8-3 helped the Hawkeyes to regroup, and setter Nikki Daily went on a tear at the service line, as Iowa pulled all the way back to tie the score at 10. A Viliunas kill put Illinois back ahead, but an attack error tied the score at 11. A kill by McMahon returned the lead to Illinois, 12-11, and the Orange and Blue soon pulled ahead 22-15. An Iowa error made it set-point Illini, 24-16, but the Hawkeyes hung tough, erasing three tries before McMahon finally finished it off with her sixth kill of the set to hand Illinois a 25-19 win in set one.
The second set was much like the first, as Illinois opened up an early 9-4 lead, but Iowa battled back to tie the score at 12. The score remained tight, tied again at 16-16, but a 5-0 run including a pair of Criswell kills put Illinois ahead 21-16, and four-straight Illini kills by four different players closed out the frame, 25-18.
Iowa won the first point of set three to take its first lead of the match. The Illini won the next two to go ahead 2-1, but Iowa replied with four of the next five points to go up 5-3. The Hawkeyes maintained control of the set, soon leading 12-10, but a 5-0 run for the Illini capped by two Birks kills and an ace by McMahon put Illinois ahead 15-12. Kills by Mayers and Viliunas increased the advantage, 18-13, but Iowa battled back within two, 19-17. However, after an Illinois timeout, the Orange and Blue came back firing, cruising to set point, 24-17. The Hawkeyes still did not back down, stifling four Illini match points before the Orange and Blue finally got the last point on a service error by Julianne Blomberg.
The Illini hit the small screen for the first time on Saturday, Sept. 28, when the host No. 12 Nebraska back at Huff Hall on the Big Ten Network. Opening serve is set for 4 p.m. conveniently between the 11 a.m. football game and basketball's Illini Street Jam at 7:30 p.m.