Liz McMahon hit .324 with 18 kills, five blocks and an ace against Northwestern.
Oct. 17, 2012
Champaign, Ill. -The 25th-ranked Illinois volleyball team battled the Northwestern Wildcats this evening in their ninth 5-set match of the season. After dropping the first set, the Illini took the second and third but had to wait for the fifth set to tab the `W,' defeating NU 3-2 (20-25, 25-20, 25-14, 17-25, 15-9). In the Illini's nine Big Ten matches of 2012, UI has gone to five six times, winning three of them. With tonight's victory, Illinois improves to 10-9 (4-5 Big Ten), while Northwestern drops to 13-7 (2-7 Big Ten).
"It reminds me of '07," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly, "when we had four freshmen out there and that's what happens. They show a lot of promise and they show a lot of talent...I think we're going to be in a lot of five setters, just because it's hard for a younger team and younger players to sustain that level.
"They're getting better, they're learning, but it's hard to sustain that level when you are playing against good teams in the Big Ten. I expected to be in a lot of five setters this year just by the nature of having a young team."
Liz McMahon exploded for 18 kills, five block assists, two digs and an ace, hitting .324, to mark the fifth time in six matches that the Liberty Township, Ohio, native has had at least 17 kills. Jocelynn Birks registered her eighth double-double with 14 kills and 10 digs, and tied the team season high with three aces, including back-to-back aces early in the third set. Alexis Viliunas put up her second-straight double-double, matching her Illinois debut with 49 assists and 14 digs, while adding four block assists, two service aces, and two kills on two swings to maintain her perfect hitting percentage.
Ali Stark recorded her third double-double with 24 kills and 10 digs, and Erin Johnson hit .429 with seven kills and three blocks. With her second block of the night, the senior middle moved past Laura Bush '90 into ninth place all time at Illinois with 418 career blocks. She is the only active player in the Big Ten to stuff more than 400 in her career.
Jennifer Beltran tabbed her sixth 20-dig match of the season, nabbing 23 in the back row and adding five assists and an ace. Freshman Julia Conard saw expanded playing time this evening, starting the third and fifth sets. The defensive specialist put up her third assist of the season while notching three digs.
Stephanie Holthus and Savannah Paffen led the Wildcats with 15 kills each, combining for 12 kills in the first set alone. Additionally, Paffen hit .565 with four blocks and a service ace, while Holthus led the team with two aces but also suffered six service errors. Setter Madalyn Shalter had a double-double with 54 assists and 10 digs, and Julie Chin and Monica McGreal at 17 and 13 digs, respectively.
The Illini's greatest advantage in the match came on the serve. UI tied its season best with eight service aces while averaging just one error per set, a season low. Meanwhile, the Wildcats tied their team high with 14 giveaways, landing just four aces.
"I thought we served great tonight," said Hambly. "(Jocelynn) served aggressive and she served tough and she put it in the spots we wanted. I thought the whole rotation was peppering balls and putting all kinds of pressure on them so they couldn't get a good rhythm."
Stephanie Holthus led the Wildcats to a solid win in the first set, slamming seven kills with no errors. As a team, Northwestern did not have an attack error in the first set, striking 20 kills on 42 swings, and stuffed three blocks to actively score 23 of its 25 points. Four early kills by Holthus handed the Wildcats a quick 8-3 lead, which Northwestern never relinquished throughout the set. A Holthus service error put the ball in McMahon's hands, leading to a kill by Ali Stark to make it 8-5. The Illini kept it close throughout the set, pulling within two, down 20-18. Kills by Dutchman and Holthus made it 22-18, but a Kraus service error kept the Illini's hopes alive. Dutchman and Shalter teamed up for a block on the next play, but a Johnson kill made it 23-20. Dutchman then laid down a solo block and Yewande Akanbi finished it off, as the Wildcats won the first set by a score of 25-20.
The Illini got off to a quick start in the second set, opening up 6-1 behind six strong serves by Birks. The Wildcats followed with a 10-6 run to pull within one, 12-11, and though a Paffen service error avoided that tie, Northwestern took a 14-13 lead off back-to-back attack errors by McMahon. Dorn tied it on a kill, but Holthus but the Wildcats back up 15-14 with a kill. McMahon rebounded with a kill and a Johnson-Viliunas block put Illinois back on top, 16-15. Akanbi tied the score at 16, but a Stark kill and another Johnson-Viliunas block gave the Illini an 18-16 advantage, and the Orange and Blue never gave it back, running away with the final three points to win 25-20.
Birks went on another dominant serving run early in the third, serving nine-straight plays, including back-to-back aces, to begin the frame up 11-3. Unlike the second set, the Wildcats were unable to overcome the early deficit, falling 25-14. The Illini hit .517 in the frame, striking 15 kills, three blocks and two aces without recording an attacking error.
Northwestern started on top in the fourth, up 3-0, and though the Illini pulled back within one, 4-3, Illinois was unable to catch the Wildcats, who soon pushed ahead 16-8. Illinois worked its way back, 18-13, but a Paffen-Akanbi block and an Akanbi kill sealed the 25-17 victory to force a tie-breaking fifth set. It marked the ninth time the Illini found themselves in the fifth set, yet the first 5-set match for the Wildcats since Nov. 19, 2011, when Northwestern fell in five for the second-straight night at Michigan State.
The Wildcats put themselves at an early disadvantage in the fifth, opening the set with a service error followed by a rotation violation to spot the Illini the first two points. Stark gave one back with a service error, but a kill by Johnson made it 3-1. Dorn, Birks and Viliunas teamed up for a triple block on the next play, and an attack error by Hannah Crippen put the Illini up 5-1, forcing an NU timeout. The Wildcats came back from the break with a Paffen-Crippen block, but Birks got it back with a kill. Paffen notched her 15th kill, but Birks landed another to make it 7-3. Crippen slammed a kill from Shalter on the next play, but a Dorn-McMahon block made it 8-4 as the two teams traded sides. The change of view did not help the Wildcats, as Illinois won three straight, including a Johnson-McMahon block, to lead 11-4. Northwestern did not back down, winning five of the next six points to pull within three, 12-9, but a pair of kills by Johnson and a McMahon-Viliunas block finished off the match, as the Illini used a 15-9 victory to claim back-to-back Big Ten wins in five sets.
Illinois will have a few days to rest before the fourth-ranked Huskers of Nebraska come to Huff Hall for the first time as members of the Big Ten conference. The Illini will host Nebraska on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m. The match will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2 with Sam Gore and Karch Kiraly on the call.