CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois volleyball team dropped a heartbreaker to the University of Michigan 3-1 at Cliff Keen Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Sunday afternoon. The Illini fell into an early-match deficit at 2-0, and despite sending it to four games, never gained control of the contest. The score did not tell the entire story as the Illini regrouped for games three and four, but the Wolverines took advantage of key errors to close out the match.
With the loss, Illinois fell to 11-5 on the season and 2-4 in Big Ten action, while Michigan improved to 15-4 overall and 2-4 in conference contests.
"The first and second games of the match, the team did not fight out there, which is very uncharacteristic of this team," head coach Don Hardin said. "We had a few key individuals not show up today. On the defensive side, Ashley Edinger took a huge leadership role in the back row, at times, setting the pace with her defense and aggressive serves."
Redshirt sophomore Kayani Turner led the attack with 24 kills, while junior Vicki Brown and junior Stephanie Alde wrapped up the Illini offense in double digits, pounding down 11 each in the loss. Evident by the match statistics, sophomore setter Lizzie Bazzetta distributed the ball well in the match, but a suffocating Michigan defense and block kept Illinois out of rhythm. Bazzetta finished the contest with a match-high 53 assists.
In game one, neither team showed signs of taking control of the match with the score 6-4 in favor of the Wolverines. The Maze and Blue continued to use a scrappy defense coupled with a few Illini errors to remain ahead at 20-14. The Illini would never regain their composure in the opening stanza falling 30-24. The specifics included Michigan out-hitting Illiniois 20-11 in kills, finishing with a .333 hitting percentage to just a .132 for the Orange and Blue.
The second game played out just the same as the first, with Michigan using tough serving and the arm of Lyndsay Miller on the right side, who collected 14 kills over the course of the opening two games, to hold an 11-8 advantage. The Illini responded midway through when Turner heated up on the outside, totaling five kills in the game, a pair of them to even the match at 15 all. Unfortunately, the story of the game would be errors for Illinois, as they registered 11 compared to just 15 kills in the game. On the other side of the court, Michigan tossed in six of their own to allow Illinois to remain in the hunt for the game at 20-20. The tie would be the closest the Orange and Blue would get, as Michigan took key rallies and exchanges late in the game to win 30-26.
Coming out of the break, the Illini looked like the competitors of old, quickly jumping out to an 8-6 lead. The score, while close, could not reflect the stepped up approach the Illini were taking to each point as Turner, junior Amy Palash and Brown combined to give Illinois a 19-14 lead. Illinois would not relinquish their hold on the game as they continued to apply the pressure off continued attacks from Turner, who finished the game with nine kills, followed by four kills from Palash and Brown. The turn around was sparked by the intelligent play by Illinois' attackers, who recorded a team attack percentage of .326 compared to just .171 for Michigan.
"I think the team definitely learned something about themselves and their ability to handle adversity on the court," Hardin said. "They showed maturity to be able to turn around the match in game three to push it to a fourth game. They just took to long to get into the match. In the Big Ten, or against anyone in the country, you can't fall behind two games on the road."
Edinger shouldered the defensive load for Illinois with a match-high 17 digs, followed by senior Beth Vrdsky with 13 pickups. The Illini defense finished the match with 61 digs on the day.
Game four looked to be anyone's game as both teams fought for a hold on the outcome at seven all. Illinois continued to attack every ball, taking a slim lead at 13-10 off a kill from Alde. However, the game shifted back into the Wolverines' hands, in large part due to their block, finishing with a team total of 11. UM also took advantage of late-game hitting errors by the Illini, taking the lead at 21-19. At that point, Illinois failed to register a kill and let the Wolverines rattle off six points to take the lead at 27-20. Fighting back, the Illini muscled out only two more points en route to Michigan taking the game at 30-23 and the match 3-1.
Illinois returns the friendly confines of Huff Hall this weekend as they host visiting Big Ten powers OhioState on Friday, Oct. 13 at , followed by a match against top-five ranked PennState on Sunday, Oct. 15, at