Balance and Blocking Bank Big Ten Road Win, 3-1
Sept. 28, 2012
Bloomington, Ind. - The No. 21 University of Illinois Volleyball team earned its first Big Ten road victory this evening, winning a four-set contest at Indiana University. The Hoosiers took the first set, 25-22, before the Illini rebounded to win the final three 25-12, 25-17, 25-20. The win lifts the Illini to 8-5 (2-1 Big Ten), while Indiana falls to 8-7 (0-3 Big Ten).
Blocking was the difference-maker in tonight's match, as the Illini out-blocked the Hoosiers 15.5-2.0, with four blockers stuffing at least five. The Orange and Blue also had their most efficient match of the season, hitting .364, while holding Indiana to just .127, including -.036 in the second set.
"They did a great job with the blocking," defensive specialist Jennifer Beltran said of her teammates. "And also just on the offensive side, finding ways to get kills. Annie (Luhrsen) was doing a great job of running that three to the middles that they couldn't stop, which was really nice to see. So, when we did give ourselves opportunities, it was really cool to see our offense just work itself out."
Jocelynn Birks once again led the Illini, recording her fifth double-double of the season with 15 kills and 12 digs. After making four errors in the first set, the redshirt freshman earned 13 kills on 25 flawless swings, to hit .520 in the remaining three sets.
Liz McMahon hit .474 with 11 kills and six blocks, and Erin Johnson hit .500 with 10 kills and eight blocks. Anna Dorn recorded seven kills and seven blocks, and Annie Luhrsen registered 43 assists. Defensive specialist Jennifer Beltran put up 12 digs to move past Mary Coleman '98 and into third place all-time at Illinois in career digs, notching her 1,394th in the final set.
"Jen is a brilliant defensive player," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "She's done a great job for us over the last three years. We've got a lot of the season left. I think that career mark of digs is going to be hers. I think she'll put that away as long as she stays healthy. She's been on a great pace."
"Honestly, I don't really keep track of that," Beltran remarked when informed of her feat. "That's cool, but I'm just out here trying to do what I can for my team. Every night I just come out with the mentality that I just have to get balls up to be able to run our offense."
Jocelynn Birks started the match off with a kill, and after back-to-back smashes from Anna Dorn, the Illini led 4-2. Illinois held a minor lead through the first half of the set, soon tabbing an 11-9 advantage. However a kill by Amelia Anderson put the ball in Melanie Hicks' hand, who served up two straight aces to give the Hoosiers their first lead of the night. Indiana did not stop there, going on an 11-1 run, until an attack error by Jordan Haverly ended the streak at 20-12. The Orange and Blue battled their way back into the set, winning five of the next six points to trail only 21-17. With a comeback in its sights, behind just 23-20, an Illinois a service error made it Indiana set point, and after two more Illinois points, Haverly closed it out with a kill to take the frame 25-22.
"We started out really well," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly, "and then they got going on the serve and we didn't play ball like we needed to.
"We were in control, but we just didn't pass; we didn't take care of the ball, but we were in control of the points. If we got a pass, we were scoring on the high level. It's just that we needed to take care of the first contacts to create opportunities for ourselves. Once we had opportunities, I felt good that we could score, and I thought we really settled in in that second, third and fourth set."
The Hoosiers took their momentum with them early in the second set, but a 10-2 run by the Illini shifted the direction in Illinois' favor, and the Orange and Blue never looked back. After taking the 12-6 lead, Illinois continued to roll, doubling their advantage in the second half, with a 25-12 final score, which tied the Illini's best scoring margin of the season, set in the third stanza against UCF on Sept. 15. Illinois' blocking game came alive in the frame, stuffing five, and the team's hitting efficiency doubled, attacking at a .480 clip with just two errors while the Hoosiers were held to -.036. Liz McMahon had a hot hand, striking five kills in the set, and Erin Johnson had three kills and three blocks.
The third set started much like the first two, without a clear leader, but the Illini gradually asserted dominance, climbing to a 17-10 lead. A service error by Beltran put the ball in Jordan Haverly's hand, who proceeded to win the next five points including an ace, to make it 17-15. However the Orange and Blue bounced right back to win eight of the last 10 points, including three kills from Johnson, to win the third set, 25-17.
Indiana rebounded in the fourth set, opening up 5-1, then 9-2, backed by another solid serving run by Hicks. A service error by Kyndall Merritt gave possession back to the Illini, who began to pull their way back. After trailing 12-7, a Birks kill started a run for the Orange and Blue, who went on to win five-straight points behind Courtney Abrahamovich's consistent serving, to tie the score at 12. A kill by Kelci Marschall regained the Hoosiers' advantage, but the Illini won the next four straight thanks in part to two Illinois blocks, to put the Illini on top, 16-13. Birks then took to the line and served up another five points, and Luhrsen dunked over the final two kills, to give the Illini a 3-1 victory with a 25-20 fourth-set win.
"I'm really happy how we handled the fourth set," said Hambly. "Where we got down, they played tough and they figured out a way."
The Illini return to action on Saturday night, when they head to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on the No. 13 Boilermakers of Purdue University. The match will air live on the Big Ten Network, beginning at 7 p.m. CT.