#1 Illini Hold Off Hoosiers, 3-1, at Huff Hall
Sept. 30, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The fourth-best Huff Hall crowd this century greeted the Fighting Illini in their first match since being ranked number one. Illinois suffered through a high-error hitting night, but used aggressive serving and a strong block to overcome visiting Indiana in four sets, 25-15, 21-25, 25-19, 25-14 in front of 3,108 fans. The victory keeps Illinois undefeated at 14-0, 3-0 in the Big Ten ahead of Saturday's match against fellow unbeaten and 12th-ranked Purdue.
Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said afterward that the first and fourth sets more resembled the potential of his team and described the other two sets as dead medium in terms of effort and execution.
Although the team is trying to downplay the No. 1 ranking, the buzz led to excitement from a thunderous crowd that included a student a section that went from the floor all the way to rafters.
"I was excited to see the crowd," Hambly said. "It's one of the things we are trying to push for as a program -- to get crowds like this even when we're not playing a ranked opponent."
"The student section was insane and their energy helped us a lot," said junior middle blocker Erin Johnson, who had eight kills and three blocks on the night. "We weren't playing well throughout that match and I think they really helped us regain our energy throughout."
Junior Michelle Bartsch reflected the Illini on the night, hitting .333 with six kills in the opening set; serving eight straight points, including five on aces in the second set, and coming up with the play of the year, a diving dig that caught the Hoosiers by surprise, landing safely on the Indiana side for an Illinois point. That gave Illinois a 15-11 advantage in set three. However, the latest Big Ten Player of the Week also had 11 hitting errors to go along with her 14 digs and team-high 16 kills.
Illinois executed well in the first set and picked up steam as the frame went on, out-scoring Indiana 9-3 to win it going away. The second set was a different story as the Illini hit -.091 with six kills and nine hitting errors. The set itself was one of streaks. The Hoosiers darted to a 9-4 lead, saw the Illini off the arm of Bartsch score nine straight, then the Hoosiers rattle off six straight and 11 of 14 overall, to take set two.
"I just don't think we were playing like ourselves," Johnson said of that second set. " I think we were being very analytical of how we were playing and not just going out and competing and making plays. We were just way over-thinking things and not playing our style. We need to stop thinking and just play."
Freshman Anna Dorn keyed a potent Illini block in set three. Dorn was in on three of the Illini's six blocks in the set as the Illini started to right the ship. The Munster, Ind., native finished with a match-high five blocks overall.
After Indiana closed to within 16-15 in set three, it was all Illinois. The Illini outscored the Hooisers 34-18 the rest of the way, closing out the third set on a 9-4 run and cruising through set four. Senior All-American Colleen Ward hit 1.000 with five kills in set four and finished the night with 14 kills while hitting .364.
Although the passing wasn't as consistent as the coaching staff would like, the defensive effort was there all night. Time and again the Illini chased down balls to save the point, out-digging Indiana, 58-48. Sophomore Jennifer Beltran had 19 digs to pace the team. Illinois slowed down the Indiana attack, forcing 30 Hoosier attack errors on the night. Kelci Marschall led Indiana with 12 kills, but hit just .075.