Women's Volleyball
No. 12 Huskers Top Illini in Return to Huff

True freshman Danielle Davis had six digs and was perfect on serve receive.
True freshman Danielle Davis had six digs and was perfect on serve receive.

Sept. 28, 2013

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Champaign, Ill. - The University of Illinois volleyball team returned to Huff Hall this evening after a spectacular turnout Friday night at State Farm Center. Coming off a 3-0 victory over Iowa, the No. 24 Illini took their first Big Ten loss of the season, falling 3-0 (25-20, 25-14, 25-22) to powerhouse No. 12 Nebraska in front of a near-capacity crowd of 3,476. The match was Illinois' first of five matches scheduled to air live on the Big Ten Network. With the win, Nebraska improves to 9-2 (2-0 Big Ten), while Illinois drops to 5-7 (1-1 Big Ten).

"I'm disappointed because I thought we had opportunities in the first set that we didn't take advantage of," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "Especially early, we put some pressure on them and they gave us opportunities as far as the things we thought we could push in certain places to get certain reactions. We got the reactions we wanted, but we didn't capitalize. And then we got frustrated in that second set because of that.

"We didn't come out fighting the same way and maybe focused on the negatives too much instead of focusing on getting back in it and taking advantage of those opportunities. I'm disappointed because I thought we could play better. Win or lose you just want to see your team move in a good direction and I thought we didn't capitalize ... The opportunities are there for us to grow a lot and we need to."

After a rare streak of being kept from double digits, Jocelynn Birks returned to the team lead with 13 kills, including slamming six with no errors in the first set. Liz McMahon notched nine kills and two of the Illini's three blocks, and true freshman outside hitter Michelle Strizak, in her first career match at outside hitter, put up five kills in the second half.

When asked about her first appearance for the Orange and Blue, Strizak said she was "really excited. I'm happy to play for this team and be a part of this community. I've always, from the start, been committed to this team this year and doing whatever I can to help this team."

"She knew she had to be ready," said Hambly. "She had been tearing us up in practice every day. It was time for her to help us."

Setter Alexis Viliunas tabbed a double-double with a team-best 13 digs and 26 assists, while libero Jennifer Beltran put up nine digs and seven assists. True freshman Danielle Davis, who had seen minimal playing time as a serving specialist in pre-conference play, worked her way into the back row rotation midway through the match and registered six digs while going 8-for-8 on serve receive.

Nebraska freshman outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen led the match with 14 kills, and senior Kelsey Robinson had a double-double with 10 kills and a team-best 15 digs. Cecilia Hall was a force to reckoned with at the net, putting up eight blocks and hitting .571 (4-0-7), while teaming up on five of those stuffs with Kadie's twin sister Amber Rolfzen.

The first set was back-and-forth to start, neither team taking a lead larger than one, but a 5-0 Nebraska run capped by an ace from Alexa Ethridge put the Huskers on top 14-10, and the Illini were unable to recover, pulling back within two, 15-13, but no closer, as Nebraska won the first, 25-20.

Nebraska opened up a 6-1 lead to start the second set, served out by Mary Pollmiller, and the Illini never made up the lost ground. Strizak, who until tonight was being considered to redshirt, made her first career appearance in the set, knocking down two kills, while Davis came in on serve receive and tabbed two digs for a struggling back row. Anna Dorn went 3-for-3 on the attack, but six Nebraska blocks, four from Cecilia Hall, gave the Huskers the edge, as Nebraska took the set, 25-14.

Nebraska held on to a narrow lead throughout the third set, and pushed ahead 12-7 midway through the frame. Illinois fought back to within two, 14-12, but could not get any closer, and soon the Huskers were on the precipice of putting the match away, 20-14. The Illini did not go quietly, forcing their way back into the set, 24-22, with the help of a pair of Strizak kills and a Dorn-McMahon block, but a service error ended the match as the Huskers held on to win in three, 25-22.

The Illini Networkers held their annual breast cancer pink jersey silent auction at this weekend's matches, and thanks to the generous contributions of the Illini Faithful, the 15 special-edition jerseys went for a total of $3,616. Additional supporters donated a sum of $517, as this weekend's total earnings were an impressive $4,133. The jerseys that were bid on this weekend will be worn by the Fighting Illini on Oct. 20 against Ohio State as a part of "Workout a Cure."

Those who were unable to bid at this weekend's auction have another opportunity to help out a great cause, as three additional special-edition jerseys will be up for bid on eBay beginning Sunday, Sept. 29, at 3 p.m. Fans can bid on the pink #3 or the white with pink lettering versions of #2 and #10 until Sunday, Oct. 6. Click here to visit the auction page. Net proceeds will be donated to Mills Breast Cancer Institute in Urbana, which helps local cancer patients get the care and support they need. For more information on MBCI, visit: http://www.carle.org/MedicalServices/Mills-Breast-Cancer-Institute.aspx.

Next Up: Illinois kicks off a four match Big Ten road trip next Friday, Oct. 4, with a visit to East Lansing to take on No. 15 Michigan State, who achieved the extremely rare feat of defeating No. 1 Penn State at Rec Hall in State College, Pa., on Friday night. The last time the Illini visited East Lansing, they returned victorious in a come-from-behind, five set victory led by Viliunas who made her first career appearance at setter. The match begins at 6 p.m. CT and will be streamed live on the Big Ten Digital Network on FightingIllini.com.