Senior Michelle Bartsch posted a double-double with 15 kills and 15 digs to lead the Illini to victory over No. 12 Purdue.
Oct. 1, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The buzz about the No. 1 ranked Illini volleyball reached another crescendo on Saturday night. A standing room only crowd of 4,261 jammed to the rafters at Huff Hall, the second largest volleyball crowd in the building's history, to witness the last two undefeated teams in the nation square off. Three of the four sets went down to the final swing and Illinois held off 12th-ranked Purdue 26-24, 25-20, 23-25, 25-23. Illinois moves to 15-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten ahead of trips to No. 24 Ohio State and No. 9 Penn State next weekend. Purdue falls to 14-1, 3-1 in the league.
"It's like having a seventh person out on the court," junior setter Annie Luhrsen said of the capacity crowd. "It gives us an advantage in a lot of ways and it's such a positive atmosphere. Volleyball is a game of energy and it's all about who has more of it. (The crowd) helps us win and keep moving forward. It really made a difference tonight."
For Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly, it's all a step in the process of establishing the sport as a cornerstone on campus.
"For people to believe that this sport has value is huge," Hambly said. " It's exciting because I feel like we have a good product here and these kids are working their hearts out. The staff is working hard to put out a good product and I hope people had fun tonight."
Purdue outhit the Illini .191-.168, but the Illini defense was crucial in pushing through. Illinois out-blocked the Boilers 11-8 and committed six fewer service errors (13-7). Finding the difference between the two teams really was like splitting hairs.
Michelle Bartsch was equally strong defensively as offensively, using a fist dig to set up a Colleen Ward kill in the most memorable point of the night. The senior All-American finished with 15 kills and 15 digs and one solo block on a ball down the line. Ward had 14 kills and 17 digs and sophomore libero Jennifer Beltran had one of her best matches as an Illini with 26 digs.
The win was a total team effort for the Illini who saw junior Annie Luhrsen (44 assists) direct a multiple threat offense. Junior Erin Johnson had 11 kills and hit .333 to go along with five blocks. Freshman Liz McMahon's presence was felt as well, both on offense (nine kills) and defense (five digs).
"I thought Annie did a great job of getting the ball to our hitters tonight," Ward said. "She put up a nice high ball so it so it was a lot easier for us to attack different shots."
Purdue's Ariel Turner got better as the match went on, pacing all players with 20 kills to go along with 12 digs. Tiffany Fisher had just two attack errors and 16 kills in 24 swings for a formidable .583 attack percentage. That duo established itself early as the Boilers led nearly start to finish in set one.
That's when the partisan crowd came into play, seemingly willing Illinois to its first lead at 24-23 when Beltran served an ace and lifting Michelle Bartsch to a pair of kills to finish off the set.
The Illini defense frustrated Purdue in the second set, forcing the Boilermakers to hit just -.024 as the Illini came up with four blocks and a big ace from Ward. Illinois took leads of 16-11, 21-15 and 23-17 before finishing off the set.
As much as Illinois pushed for the set one, Purdue did likewise in the third. A Bartsch ace late in the set gave Illinois a 23-22 lead and got the Illini within two points of the match, but a pair of Illini attack errors and a Catherine Rebarchak kill sent the match in the a fourth set. Purdue once again established its offense with Fisher and Turner to hit .267 for the set.
The fourth set was competitive volleyball played at an extremely high level. Both teams returned to their hot hands. Bartsch and Ward combined for 30 of the Illini's 46 swings in the set, tallying five kills apiece, while Turner had 23 of her match-high 72 swings in the fourth set, amassing seven kills. In the end, defensive specialist Rachel Feldman made some big saves and sophomore Jazmine Orozco, who hadn't played the entire match, came in to serve the final two points. With the set tied at 23-23, Orozco served tough, leading to a pair of blocks for points, with sophomore Anna Dorn (five blocks) in on both.
"It was two teams on both sides of the net that wanted to win," Hambly concluded. "Neither team wanted to let anything hit the floor. We aren't going to block every ball and we aren't going to shut everyone down. We are going to be a grind it out team and try to figure out a way to win. That's what we did tonight."