Colleen Ward had Illinois' third 20-20 performance of the season with 20 kills and 20 digs.
Oct. 19, 2011
Evanston, Ill. - It has been a match volleyball fans across the country have been looking forward to for awhile as No. 1 Illinois travels to No. 4 Nebraska on Saturday night. Now the Illinois team can fully focus on the match in Lincoln after both the Huskers and Illini posted straight sets victories on Wednesday night to move to identical 9-0 records in the Big Ten. The Illini are now 20-0 overall after a straight sets 25-19, 25-23, 25-19 victory over Northwestern in Evanston. The Huskers are 16-1 after disposing of Iowa in three sets.
Colleen Ward posted the third 20-20 performance by an Illinois player this year, but to do so in three sets makes that performance even more impressive. Ward had 20 kills and 20 digs while hitting .283 as Illinois fought off rallies in each set by the Wildcats (10-10, 1-8). The Wildcats out-blocked the Illini 12-10.5, but Illinois came through with the block when it needed to as Erin Johnson and Anna Dorn had six blocks apiece for the Illini. The match was a defensive battle with Illinois out-digging the Wildcats, 70-55. Jennifer Beltran (17 digs), Michelle Bartsch (16 digs) and Annie Luhrsen (10 digs) backed up Ward's great defensive effort.
"We like to play a high level defensive match," Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said. "They challenged us on defense and we had to match that."
"It was actually a great defensive match for us," Ward said afterward. "That's the kind of team we want to be known for. I thought we did a lot better of that tonight than we have in the past. Our middles did a good job of getting the block to them so it was harder for Northwestern's middles to come close on their blocks. That made it easier for the outsides to get the ball and find the open spots."
"Colleen is starting to develop into a really good volleyball player," Hambly said. "Previously she has been known has a big hitter and a big jump server. She has started to pick the subtleties the game like making plays in the back row."
In both the first and second sets, Illinois jumped to early leads, but had to fight off a Northwestern rally. In set one, the Illini used the arm of Ward, who had seven kills in the set combined with great efforts by the middles to build the lead. Johnson had six kills and hit .500 for the set while Dorn was good on all three of her attacks. Illinois built leads of 8-4, 10-6 and 13-9 before the Wildcats came back to tie. Michelle Bartsch was eventually the difference. With the score tied at 17-17, the Illini scored six straight points, the last five off the Bartsch serve.
Northwestern out-blocked the Illini in the first set 5-2, but Illinois was able to turn that around in the second set with four blocks of its own. Once again the Illini led through most of the set before the Wildcats went in front 17-16. Once again, however, the Illini pulled out the deuce game 25-23. Ward was strong again with seven kills in 12 swings. The Wildcats were able to get back into the set thanks in part to 10 hitting errors by the Illini.
Illinois took over the third set early using an 8-2 run to take a 15-9 lead. Beltran served three straight points in the run, including an ace.
"I thought Ward did a great job of carrying the load, but overall I though it was a total team effort," Hambly said. "Anna was all over the block. EJ was good offensively. I thought Annie set a good match. We are a system-oriented team and it's going to take a team effort in order for us to win. I thought it was tonight."