Women's Volleyball
Illini Bounce Back to Beat Buckeyes, 3-1

Liz McMahon crushed it against her siblings' alma mater, hitting .390 with 18 kills and five blocks.
Liz McMahon crushed it against her siblings' alma mater, hitting .390 with 18 kills and five blocks.

Oct. 20, 2013

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Champaign, Ill. - The Fighting Illini volleyball team rebounded from a slow start to win the final three sets and capture their first 4-set victory of the season, defeating No. 17 Ohio State, 3-1 (15-25, 25-15, 25-22, 25-20). The Buckeyes are the fifth ranked team to fall at the hands of the Fighting Illini, who continue to hold the title of most difficult schedule in the nation. The Orange and Blue finish the weekend 8-10 (4-4 Big Ten), while Ohio State's Big Ten slide persists, dropping to 14-6 (2-6 Big Ten).

"I thought we made a big change from the first (set) in so many aspects," said outside hitter Liz McMahon. "Our serve-pass game picked up a lot and then our mindset. They were more prepared than us in the first set. From there on out I thought we attacked them really well."

McMahon, a native of Liberty Township, Ohio, took it to her home state, leading the Illini with 18 kills while hitting .390 with five blocks, a dig and an assist. The junior consistently plays well against OSU, the alma mater of her siblings Colin and Clare, having put up 20-kill performances in both matchups last season.

"Yeah, I wish we could play them every weekend," McMahon laughed. "It's not hard to get up for this game mentally and then I liked the matchup I had hitting against their blockers. (Alexis) was really good tonight about setting who was hot, and it gave me more confidence and the cycle just continued."

After being held kill-less in the first set, sophomore Jocelynn Birks rebounded to nab a double-double with 14 kills, 11 digs and three blocks, while fellow outside hitter Morganne Criswell tallied 15 kills and two blocks. Middle blocker Maddie Mayers had a solid night up front, hitting .545 with six kills and no errors, along with five of the team's nine blocks.

"I wish she had a bigger impact offensively, I wanted to get to her more," Head Coach Kevin Hambly said of Mayers, "but on blocking she did a nice job. She executed. It took her a while, but I think it takes people a while to get used to Ohio State because they are different and it's hard to keep things calm. She calmed down and did a really good job later in the matchup, especially sets three and four. Everyone talks about the blocks she had, but the deflections are what I liked more. She got touches and slowed the ball down, gave us opportunities to transition."

Alexis Viliunas registered a double-double with 44 assists, 13 digs and the team's lone service ace, and libero Jennifer Beltran led the team with 14 digs.

"This week, we talked about extending the periods of time when we're attacking and I thought we made strides in that aspect in this match," said Mayers. "(On defense), we worked on just staying disciplined, reading the setter, and being ready for whatever is coming towards you."

Ohio State senior Kaitlyn Leary led the match on offense and defense, registering 20 kills, 16 digs and three service aces, representing a crucial part of the Buckeyes' opening-set victory.

"We had to track where Leary went because she would run inside," said McMahon, "but that just goes with our defense: we stay calm, we read what's going on, don't get caught up, and then once we see the set we move to it."

Middle blocker Andrea Kacsits hit .353 with nine kills, and outside hitter Erin Sekinger went 7-for-13 to hit .538. The Buckeyes tabbed an impressive seven aces in the match, with two each by Taylor Sherwin and Valeria Leon in addition to Leary's three. On defense, libero Julianne Madolfo tallied 15 digs, Leon registered 11 and Davionna DiSalvatore had 10. Junior setter Taylor Sherwin had 43 assists and four blocks.

The Buckeyes jumped out to a daunting 9-2 lead to begin the match, backed by a 6-0 run served out by Kaitlyn Leary. A block by McMahon and Dorn finally stopped the run, but the Illini had already fallen too far behind, dropping the opening frame, 25-15. Leary was the driving force in the set, recording eight kills, two aces and seven digs in the single frame.

The tables were turned in the second set, as Illinois opened up an early 7-3 lead and never looked back, cruising to a 25-15 win and tying the match at one set apiece. The Illini contained Leary in the second set, limiting her to just three kills, while outside hitters McMahon and Birks each had five. The Illini improved drastically in the serve-pass battle, siding out at 87% (14-for-16) and holding the Buckeyes to just 54% (13-for-24), the exact opposite of set one.

The third set was neck-and-neck, as the score ran to a 10-10 tie. A 5-1 run capped by back-to-back kills by Criswell put Illinois on top 15-11, forcing Ohio State to call a timeout. The Buckeyes returned from the break refreshed, winning the next two points including an ace by Sherwin, but Illinois pushed right back and soon reached set point, 24-18. Ohio State would not go quietly, erasing four straight attempts, but Criswell finally sealed the deal with her sixth kill of the set to put Illinois ahead 2-1 with a 25-22 win of set three. McMahon was lights-out in the frame, tabbing seven kills and no errors to help Illinois out-hit the Buckeyes .441 to .216 in the third.

Ohio State led early in the fourth set, but after falling behind 9-7, Illinois used a 4-0 run with two Birks kills to take an 11-9 lead, and the Illini never again trailed. A block by McMahon and Mayers increased the gap to 21-16 and kills by Mayers and Criswell closed out the match as the Illini took the set, 25-20. Birks recovered from her slow start for six kills in the final frame, while Viliunas stepped up on defense with six digs.

Today's match was the Illini's annual breast cancer awareness match. Entitled "Workout a Cure," the Illinois players all wore special pink jerseys, each of which had been auctioned off by the Illini Networkers to help raise money for Mills Breast Cancer Institute in Urbana. The auction winners each selected a name to put on the back of the jerseys, many of whom chose to honor a loved one who struggled with cancer.

Strizak's #4 jersey bore the name B. Greenwood to show support for a former Illini athlete, Brittney Greenwood, who played for the Orange and Blue in 1995 and is currently struggling with breast cancer. The gentleman who won McMahon's jersey said he chose to honor his mother.

"The person that got my jersey, I just met him out there (after the game) and took a picture with him," said McMahon. "It was just cool to be a part of something bigger than this."

The Illini hit the road on Wednesday for their first midweek match, going upstate to take on Northwestern (12-8, 4-4 Big Ten), then finish out the first half of the conference season with a trip to No. 15 Wisconsin (16-4, 5-3) on Sunday. Wednesday's match begins at 7 p.m. and will be streamed live on the Big Ten Digital Network.