Illini sweep Wildcats
Oct. 1, 2004
Evanston, Ill. - The Illini set out for the their first road trip of the Big Ten season Friday night with a match at Northwestern with many of the players starting in a conference road match for the first time. Illinois responded well with a 30-21, 30-17, 30-27 victory. The 19th-ranked Illini move to 10-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten. Northwestern falls to 5-9, 0-4.
"To go on the road with a freshman setter and several other young players and win in this conference is always big," said Illini Head Coach Don Hardin. "I was real proud of how are team responded right from the opening of the match."
Illinois set the tone early, hitting .586 in the first game, led by a dominating performance from sophomore middle blocker Meghan Macdonald, who had five of her 11 kills in the game. Macdonald hit .917 on the night, the fourth-best attack percentage in Illinois history. Senior outside hitter Jessica Belter led the Illini in kills with 12, pacing another balanced attack. Fresh off four players in double figures in a three-game sweep over Indiana, the Illini nearly repeated the feat with juniors Rachel VanMeter and Rasa Virsilaite tallying nine kills apiece.
"Mac's a big part of our offense," Hardin said. "She was swinging with a lot of confidence tonight. Being able to go to the middle and get our blocks going really helps sets up the outside. It adds a whole other dimension to our game."
All aspects were working for Illinois, starting with the serve reception and the passing. Senior libero Lauren Harks had an outstanding night with several sensational digs of her team-leading 13 digs on the night. Kathleen Bazzetta added 12 digs.
"Lauren is someone we can count on night in a night out," Hardin said. "Her serve reception and really the entire team's ability to serve receive was a big difference for us."
"There was a lot communication out there," said Harks. "We focused a lot on passing and defense this week and being able to side them out right away was a big plus for us."
Redshirt freshman Stephanie Obermeier mixed up the attack nicely with several back sets to Macdonald and Belter and well as several sets to the middle. Obermeier finished with 40 assists on the night.
Illinois, who entered the night as the Big Ten leader in service aces had a tremendous day in that department with nine service aces to just two service errors, while the Illini had a season-high 10 blocks for a three-game match, led by Macdonald's one solo block and six block assists. Belter added five block assists.
After a dominating performance in game one, Illinois finished game two with a flourish. Down 12-11 in the game, Illinois out-scored the Wildcats 19-5 the rest of the way to close out the game. Northwestern took just three leads in the match, two one-point leads in the second game and a three-point lead in the game three.
Although Northwestern hung around a little longer in game three, Illinois took advantage of an opening late in the game to turn a 17-17 score into a commanding 28-22 advantage before surviving a late Northwestern rally.
The Illini will try to sweep the weekend Sunday at Wisconsin, a place Illinois had not won since 1995. The Badgers, who were idle on Friday bring a 7-4 overall record and 1-2 Big Ten mark into the match.