Vicki Brown had a season-high 19 kills and 40 attacks vs. Ohio State.
Oct. 21, 2007
Champaign, Ill. - "I've never seen this before," said Illinois head coach Don Hardin. "Every match going to five games and to lose in the fifth game this many times. It doesn't matter who we're playing - the number two team in the country or a team that is struggling."
For the fourth straight home match, Illinois saw itself in a five-game situation. Like Friday's match against no. 2 Penn State, the Illini rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the match and send it to a fifth game. Ohio State pulled it out in the fifth game to win 30-26, 30-25, 29-31, 22-30, 17-15 improve to 3-7 in the Big Ten, 9-10 overall while the Illini are now 4-6 in the league and 12-8 overall.
Through the first half of the Big Ten season, the conference has become a two-horse race between Penn State (10-0) and No. 8 Wisconsin (9-1) with six teams between 6-4 and 4-6, covering places 3-8 in the league, meaning Illinois is still much in a fight for an upper division Big Ten finish.
"It is key that we finish games," Hardin said on the pending second half of the conference season. "We need to find composure and then execute in game five or late in games."
The statistics back up Hardin's charge. The difference between contending in the competitive Big Ten and where the Illini find themselves through the first half of the league is not that great. Playing a challenging schedule, Illinois has yet to be swept and has seen eight matches go to a fifth and deciding game, where the Illini have a 1-7 record.
Illinois continues to play solid back row defense, out-digging an opponent for the 17th time in 20 matches. Sophomore libero Ashley Edinger had a career-high 34 digs vs. Ohio State as Illinois won that category 81-77. Neither team hit for a high percentage with Ohio State winning that battle .198-.151.
Solid passing allowed Illinois to get the ball to middle blocker Vicki Brown, who had a season-best and one off her career-high with 40 attacks while tying a season-high with 19 kills. Brown hit .300 while freshman Abby Nelson hit .375 with four kills in a reserve role.
"Today Abby Nelson was key," Hardin said. "She was the spark that got us fighting back. She came off the bench and had a couple of key blocks. We wouldn't have made it to a fifth game without her."
Ohio State dictated the rhythm in the first two games. The Buckeyes sprung to an 8-4 lead and trailed just three times while hitting .333 in game one. Illinois countered with freshman Laura DeBruler, who hit .357 with six kills in the opening game en route to her 10th 20-plus kill performance of the season and fourth in the last five matches.
DeBruler followed that with five kills in game two to increase her hitting percentage to .370 through two games. The Buckeyes started to get their block going, however, with four blocks in game two. For the match, Ohio State had 23 blocks to Illinois' eight providing the difference in the end.
Much the same way Illinois did in the match with Penn State on Friday, the Illini came out with a new level of intensity in game three. Brown had five kills while senior Stefanie Alde added four en route to 15 kills and a .265 attack percentage on the night.
After fighting off a furious Ohio State rally in game three, Illinois was in control in game four, forcing 12 OSU hitting errors. Setter Lizzie Bazzetta (63 assists) distributed the ball nicely. Illinois used a 7-2 run, much of which came on the serve of Amy Palash, to forge in front 15-12 and extended it to a near insurmountable 26-20 advantage.
Had Illinois won the match, the story would be have been the rally in game five. With Ohio State on the verge of closing out the match at 14-11, Illinois fought off five match points to nearly snatch the victory away. After a Buckeye service error, DeBruler and Nelson combined on a block. Edinger served two straight points to tie it at 14-14. After splitting the next two points, the Buckeyes closed it out, however, with a big block. Danielle Meyer led Ohio State with 27 kills.
Illinois begins the second half of the Big Ten season at Purdue (Friday) and Indiana (Saturday).