Buckeyes Battle Back to Beat Illini in Five
Oct. 5, 2012
Champaign, Ill. – The Fighting Illini had a 2-0 lead erased tonight, as the No. 19 Ohio State Buckeyes surged back to win the final three sets and claim its first victory over Illinois since 2007. The Orange and Blue cruised to a 25-16 win in the first set, but the senior leadership of Emily Danks, Mari Hole, Amanda Peterson and Mariah Booth kept the Buckeyes focused, as they came out of the break refreshed and ready to win. Avenging the loss to the Illini in the 2011 NCAA Regional Semifinals, Ohio State took the match by a score of 3-2 (16-25, 25-27, 25-21, 25-15, 25-12). The Buckeyes are now 12-5 (3-2 Big Ten), while the Illini drop to 8-7 (2-3 Big Ten).
“I feel like, especially the first set, we came out with intensity, we came out with an attitude that we have to play with,” said junior Jennifer Beltran. “The biggest part of it is just believing in ourselves and just doing it consistently and not just for a few points, but finding a way to carry that on through the whole match. We have to start out that way and finish it the same way.”
Sophomore outside hitter Liz McMahon had a stellar performance, smashing 23 kills and three blocks to set a new personal attacking mark.
“We’ve been setting Lizzie more and more all the time,” said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. “Against Purdue she had a big night, against Indiana she had a big night; she’s a weapon we have to use. And, tonight she was on fire and so we used her a little bit more.”
Jennifer Beltran registered a match-leading 25 digs, to move into second place all-time at Illinois with 1,436 in her career. The junior libero vaulted past Tracey Marshall ’99, who tallied 1,426. Ashley Edinger ’08 is the lone member of the Orange and Blue to remain ahead of Beltran, holding onto a sizable lead at 1,921. Beltran also tabbed three service aces in the match, and Annie Luhrsen served up two more to go along with 52 assists and nine digs.
Junior Kaitlyn Leary led the Buckeyes’ balanced attack with 14 kills, followed closely by seniors Mari Hole (13) and Emily Danks (10). Senior setter Amanda Peterson had 35 assists, and Taylor Sherwin added an additional 13. Starting libero Davionna DiSalvatore tallied 13 digs early in the match, before Julianne Mandolfo subbed in for her and picked up an additional 13.
McMahon opened the match with a kill, and a lights-out serving run by Birks opened up an early 7-2 lead. The Illini stayed on top for the remainder of the set, and soon the score read 18-13. Another kill by McMahon sparked a 4-0 Illini run, highlighted by a Beltran ace and a Johnson-Stark block, to make it 22-13. Hole and Kacsits each had one more kill, but Stark served the final point, as the Illini won the first set, 25-16.
The Buckeyes began the second set with a triple block, and slowly took a lead over the Illini, up 12-9. Another Beltran ace made it 12-11, but Booth tacked on a kill to avoid the tie. Birks brought the Illini within one again, 15-14, but an attack error by Anna Dorn made it 16-14. However, Dorn turned it around on the next play, smashing a kill to start a 5-0 run for the Illini who took their first lead of the set, up 19-16. A Buckeye block and a kill by Hole made it 19-18, but back-to-back kills by McMahon put the Illini back up 22-19. However, the Buckeyes would not go quietly, winning four of the next five points, to tie the score at 23. Kacsits served up an ace to reach set point, but followed with an error, to make it 24-24. Leary earned another Buckeye set point, but back-to-back kills by Birks gave the Illini the advantage, and a powerful serve by Courtney Abrahamovich capped off the set, as the Orange and Blue went up 2-0 with a 27-25 set win.
The crowd of nearly 2,500 at Huff was feeling good, but the senior-laiden Buckeyes would not give up, and returned from the break refreshed and focused. Head Coach Geoff Carlson made a personnel change in the intermission, switching Mandolfo to libero, which turned out to be just the pick-me-up his team needed.
“That was a move that helped them,” said Hambly, “because we got number nine in trouble. They run a crazy fast offense that does a lot of different combos, different than anything we’ve seen, and they executed it.”
The third set began with eight ties, knotting the score at 9-9, but a kill by Hole put the serve in Mandolfo’s hands, as the Buckeyes strung together three-straight points for the first time in the set to go ahead 12-9. McMahon chipped in a kill for the Illini, but another ace followed by Hole’s third kill of the set pushed Ohio State up 15-10, a deficit the Illini would find too large to overcome. A kill by Stark lessened the gap, down 23-21, but Hole followed with her 10th kill of the night and Kacsits closed out the set with a solo block to keep the Buckeyes alive with a 25-21 victory.
Ohio State rode its momentum into the fourth set, opening up an early 4-0 lead. The Illini did not bow their heads, fighting to within one, 9-8. Ohio State pushed back, 11-9, but a kill by Dorn and a Danks error tied the score at 11. However, the Illini were unable to take the lead, as Faul tooled the block for a kill. A Birks kill made it 13-12, but she followed with a service error. McMahon registered her sixth kill of the set to keep the Illini within one, 14-13, but the Buckeyes would go on to win the next nine straight, behind a solid serving run by Hole, to take a daunting 23-13 lead. Morganne Criswell entered the match, and immediately pulled out a kill, but a Kacsits kill made it set point. Criswill registered a kill on the following point to keep the Illini alive. Abrahamovich came in to serve, as the Illini played out the point to what looked to be Criswell’s third-straight kill, but following the point, a Buckeye appeal confirmed that the Illini were out of rotation, giving Ohio State the preceding point and the fourth-set victory, 25-15.
With their 2-0 lead erased, the Illini came out ready to play in the fifth, as Luhrsen started it off with an ace. Hole evened the score at one with a kill, but a Mandolfo service error put Illinois back on top, 2-1. A ball-handling error by Luhrsen tied the score, but Dorn put the Orange and Blue up 3-2. Peterson knotted it at three, but McMahon regained the lead and a Johnson kill made it 5-3. A Kacsits kill and an Illini error evened the set at five, but Stark regained the lead, 6-5, with a kill. Coach Carlson did not like the call, and received a yellow card from the referees, which seemingly lit a fire under the Buckeyes, who would go on to with the next two and take their first lead of the set, 7-6. A Birks kill tied it at seven, but Leary tied it with a kill and a Birks error made it 9-7 Ohio State. Dorn returned from a timeout with a kill (9-8), but kills by Hole and Danks pushed the Buckeyes ahead 11-8. Birks replied with a kill and Dorn-McMahon block set the score at 11-10, leading to an OSU timeout. Danks came back from the break with a kill, but Dorn ripped her third kill of the set and an attack error by Peterson tied the score at 12. It was anybody’s game, tied 12-12 in the tiebreaking fifth set, but Ohio State’s experience won out over the young Illini, as the Buckeyes won the final three points of the match to earn a dramatic, come-from-behind victory, 15-12.
“It’s the beauty of the Big Ten and the challenge of the Big Ten,” said Hambly. “It’s the reason these kids chose to play in this conference. You have to forget wins and you have to forget losses, and you have to bring it every night. And if you don’t bring it, like we did tonight, you’ll lose, every time, against everybody. And I love it for that.”
The Illini will have their resilience tested to the max tomorrow, as they return to Huff Hall to host No. 1 Penn State. The Nittany Lions return to Champaign having lost just one match this season, sitting at 15-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big Ten after a 3-set victory over Northwestern this evening. Penn State owns the all-time series with the Illini, 37-9, but the Illini have won three of the last four contests with Penn State, including both matchups of 2011, and defeated No. 1 USC in the 2011 NCAA Semifinals in their most recent meeting with the top-ranked team. The match is slated to begin at 7 p.m. and will air on BTN.com (Student U) along with WDWS 1400 AM in Champaign and WDAN 1490 AM in Danville.