Women's Volleyball
Illini Fight Back to Upset No. 14 Michigan in Five

Alexis Viliunas had a fantastic night at setter, tabbing 40 assists.
Alexis Viliunas had a fantastic night at setter, tabbing 40 assists.

Oct. 5, 2013

Box Score

Ann Arbor, Mich. - The University of Illinois volleyball team found itself in a hole, down 2-1, but battled back to upset No. 14 Michigan, 3-2, on the Wolverines' home court. Illinois won the first set 25-18, but struggled in the next two, falling 25-15, 25-10. Nevertheless, the Orange and Blue did not give up hope, winning the fourth 25-20 then topping UM in the fifth, 15-13. With the win, Illinois improves to 6-8 (2-2 Big Ten), while Michigan falls to 11-4 (1-3 Big Ten).

"It was a roller coaster, that's for sure," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "Our team can drive you crazy when they're playing up and down like that. It was nice to see them figure out how to fight and execute and compete. Last night we fought but we didn't execute, and tonight we did a much better job in the fifth set of executing."

After a quiet few weeks, sophomore Jocelynn Birks exploded for a match-high 21 kills, marking the 15th 20-kill match of her career. Liz McMahon was next on the team with 10 kills, followed closely by Morganne Criswell with eight, including a few key swings late in the match.

"We don't win without her, no question," Hambly said of Criswell. "She made some great swings."

Despite struggling on Friday night at Michigan State, setter Alexis Viliunas had an outstanding night, registering 40 assists and an ace.

"I thought she did a really nice job," said Hambly. "I thought she stayed within herself, and in the pass when the team got a little bit in disarray, she did her best to stay calm and let the hitters work it out. I think it's the best match she's had since she's been here in that sense."

In the back row, Jennifer Beltran led the Illini with 14 digs and freshman Danielle Davis put up 13. Birks dug eight balls, and Courtney Abrahamovich registered six.

"Davis did a great job," Hambly commented. "I thought Danielle did a great job passing and she just battled."

The Illini blocking unit found some life, led at the net by Anna Dorn who recorded seven of the team's nine stuffs, including three all by herself. McMahon was strong at the net as well, putting up three block assists.

Michigan put up a balanced attack, led by senior outside hitter Lexi Erwin with 19 kills. Jennifer Cross recorded 16 kills and Abby Cole added 11. Setter Lexi Dannemiller hit .700 with seven kills to go along with 53 assists and eight digs, and Molly Toon registered another eight kills.

Sophomore libero Tiffany Morales led the match with 25 digs and Ally Sabol tallied 13. Cross led the front row defense with seven block assists, as the Wolverines narrowly out-stuffed the Illini, 11-9.

After hitting .429 and siding out at 73% in the first set, the Illini were held to .016 and a 36% side out rate over the next two sets, while Michigan hit .387 and went 19-for-26 on the Illinois serve in the second and third frames. Nevertheless, the Fighting Illini lived up to their name, battling back to win the next two and capture the match victory.

"It felt like we were trying to do too much," Hambly remarked. "They wanted to win so bad that they were trying to do too much. You have to find a way to win, and to do that you have to execute."

Erwin and Cross started the match with a block, and a 4-0 Michigan run gave the Wolverines an early 10-5 lead. Illinois bounced back with a 4-0 run of its own served out by Beltran to pull within one, 11-10, and a kill by Mayers tied the score at 13. Cross put Michigan back on top with a kill, but another Mayers kill re-tied the score at 14, and a run served up by Abrahamovich, including back-to-back sneak attacks by Viliunas, pushed Illinois ahead 17-14.  Birks and McMahon powered the Orange and Blue further ahead, and a solo stuff by Mayers made it Illinois set point, 24-17. The Wolverines erased the first attempt with a kill by Cross, but a cross-court kill by McMahon gave the Illini their first set victory in eight days with a score of 25-18.

The Wolverines exacted revenge in the second set, using a monster 15-2 run to take a daunting 19-6 lead in the frame. A service error by Morales put the ball in the hands of Danielle Davis, who helped pull the Illini back into the match, but despite three rocket kills by Birks, the Illini had dug themselves into too big of a hole, dropping the set, 25-15, and allowing Michigan to tie the match at one set apiece.

Michigan opened the third set by winning the first six points, and after a McMahon kill, pulled ahead 11-1. Sabol and Morales served a combined 17 times in the set--nearly half the plays in the set--to lead the Wolverines to a dominating 25-10 victory in the third.

Illinois rebounded in the fourth set, opening with a 3-0 lead, and soon pushed ahead 14-7 with the help of Dorn putting up the solid block at the net. Michigan forced its way back in, making it 14-11, then came as close as one, 19-18, but the Illini won six of the final eight points to take the fourth, 25-20, and send the match to five.

The Fighting Illini won the first two points of the tiebreaker, but back-to-back kills by Cross pushed Michigan out on top, 4-3. A service error tied the score at four, but a kill and an ace put the Wolverines back ahead, 6-4. UM maintained a slight lead until a Birks kill tied the score at nine. A kill by Erwin made it 10-9 Michigan, but Birks slammed her 20th kill to tie it again at 10. The pair did it again to tie the frame at 11, but Cross kept Michigan from falling behind with a kill to make it 12-11. A huge kill on a tip by Criswell tied the score at 12 and an error by Toon gave Illinois their first lead since it was 3-2, at 13-12. With their backs to the wall, the Wolverines were unable to execute, committing two more errors and allowing the Illini to win the match with a 15-13 victory in the fifth.

"Last night we figured out how to fight, today we figured out how to win," said Hambly. "It was a big win for us and this is a tough place to win."