Michelle Bartsch and the Illini block were crucial to the Illinois victory over Indiana.
Oct. 16, 2010
Champaign, Ill. - "If there's anything this team is, it's resilient," said Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly of his Illini following another hard-fought Big Ten match Saturday night. "With all the stuff they've had to endure, they don't get flustered, whether we're behind or even after we drop a set."
That resiliency helped No. 8 Illinois remain in a tie for first-place in the Big Ten conference following its second straight four-set match victory, posting a 25-23, 25-22, 21-25, 25-19 decision over Indiana. The Illini improve to 15-3 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten, tied for the conference lead with Michigan. Illinois now has won 18 straight at home, the most since winning 22 straight in 1991 and 1992 and the sixth-longest active streak in Division I.
Illinois had to overcome deficits in the first two sets to pull them out or the match could have been different. In set one, the Illini built an 11-7 lead, only to see Indiana come battling back to take leads of 15-14, 17-15 and 20-18 behind the arm of all-conference middle blocker, Ashley Benson had seven of her 16 kills in that first set. The Illini scored the next four points to take a 22-20 lead and held off the Hoosiers by two.
The deficit in the second set was even more daunting, trailing 12-6, but behind the service arm of Jennifer Bonilla, Illinois rattled off seven straight points following a timeout. Illinois had a pair of blocks in the rally and six total in the second set after failing to post one in set one. Right side hitter Michelle Bartsch had her second straight 20-kill match performance in as many weeks with 22, including seven kills in that second set.
Senior Nicole Kump backed up her seven blocks in Friday's win over Purdue with five more Saturday night, tied for the team lead with Johannah Bangert. Bartsch and junior outside hitter Colleen Ward were in on four.
"I think our strong blocking can be attributed to tough serving," Haen said. "We really went out and attacked them from the end line. That is our game plan every night."
Indiana took its turn in getting its block going in set three, posting eight blocks and limiting Illinois to an .056 attack percentage. Indiana built a 10-5 lead, but after Illinois closed to within 13-12, the Hoosiers regained their form and didn't allow the Illini to come back once again. Indiana led Illinois in blocks 11-10 overall for the night with Benson in on 10 of those.
Illinois returned the serve well in the fourth set and was able to keep out the Indiana block the entire set in posting nearly a wire-to-wire victory. Trailing 3-1, the Illini scored six straight points to take a 7-3 lead and never really were threatened after that.
Bartsch led a trio of Illini in double figures in kills. Ward hit .250 with 15 kills and a career-best 17 digs. while freshman Jazmine Orozco, making her second straight start in replacement of Laura DeBruler, added 12 kills. Senior setter Hillary Haen joined Ward with a double-double, posting 49 assists and 10 digs.
The teams combined for 168 digs in a match that featured a number of long rallies. Bonilla led all players with 28 digs individually.
"If we get a win, I feel good," Hambly summed up. "I say that because they are not easy to come by in the Big Ten. The conference is that brutal night in and night out."
Illinois completes the first half of the Big Ten next weekend with road matches at Iowa and No. 19 Minnesota.