Women's Volleyball
Huskers Overpower Illini, 3-0, in Huff

Jennifer Beltran moved into the Big Ten top 20, now owning 1,521 career digs.
Jennifer Beltran moved into the Big Ten top 20, now owning 1,521 career digs.

Oct. 21, 2012

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Champaign, Ill. - The Illinois volleyball team suffered a tough, 3-0, loss this afternoon to No. 4 Nebraska, falling 25-16, 25-23, 25-16, in front of a national television audience on ESPN2. The Huskers earn their ninth-straight Big Ten victory, improving to 17-2 (9-1 Big Ten), while Illini drop to 10-10 (4-6 Big Ten).

"I thought that if we played well we had a shot," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly, "and I think we did in that second set. We needed to get that second set to get some confidence and feel like we can play with this team, and we had our opportunities."

Jocelynn Birks led the offense with 13 kills, adding five digs, an ace and a solo block. Ali Stark followed with eight kills and a team-high 13 digs to go with two assists and Liz McMahon also tabbed eight kills. Alexis Viliunas put up 33 assists, five digs and two blocks, while notching three kills on five errorless swings, and Erin Johnson assisted on four of the team’s six blocks, to move into a tie with Nancy Brookhart ’89 for seventh all-time at Illinois in career block assists (398). Freshman Julia Conard made her first career start, tying her career high with eight digs. Jennifer Beltran registered seven digs in the match, moving past Minnesota’s Jessica Granquist ’11 and into the Big Ten top 20 in career digs, with 1,521. 

"We just didn't do what we needed to do," said freshman setter Alexis Viliunas. "We weren't playing as free as we needed to be and weren't following the game plan."

Morgan Broekhuis led Nebraska with 10 kills, followed closely by Gina Mancuso with nine and Hannah Werth with eight. Lauren Cook paced the Huskers with 27 assists, and Werth dug out 18 attacks, while libero Lara Dykstra had 10 digs. Hayley Thramer put up a match-leading eight block assists, and four Huskers had three apiece. Broekhuis also led at the service line with three aces (the team's only three).

The Illini out-dug the Huskers 42-20, and the teams were tied with 41 kills and 38 aces, but Illinois had 24 attack errors, 12 unforced, as compared to just 10 by the Huskers (four unforced), which made the difference in the match.

"We just gave a team that doesn't give up points too many points," said Hambly. "They force you to beat them, they don't beat themselves. I thought that was the difference, we just kept giving them points. We need to execute at a much higher level than that."

The Huskers began the match with a kill and a block by Gina Mancuso. The Illini replied with kills by Birks and Viliunas to make it 2-2, but Nebraska capitalized on three Illinois errors to go ahead 6-2, a lead it never relinquished. Nebraska gradually increased its lead, soon moving ahead 18-8. The Illini worked hard to stay in the match, working their way up to 16, but a Cook-Haggerty block closed out the frame for the Huskers, 25-16.

Cook and Thramer teamed up on a block for the first point of the second set, but a solo block by Birks tied it at one. Broekhuis regained the Huskers' lead with a kill, but kills by Birks and McMahon gave the Illini their first lead of the match, up 3-2. Viliunas tied it with a service error, but Lara Dykstra returned the favor with another error, and a Birks ace put Illinois ahead 6-3. A pair of blocks by Johhnson pushed the Illini further ahead, 11-6, but the Huskers would not back down, forcing their way back into the set with a 4-0 run to tie it at 15. Stark landed a kill to put Illinois up 16-15, but back-to-back kills by Haggerty switched the advantage to Nebraska, 17-16. McMahon tied the score at 17, but Nebraska won the next two, to lead 19-17. Johnson and Stark laid down a block, and Birks ripped a kill to tie the score at 19, but Nebraska won the next three points to go ahead 22-19. Back-to-back kills by Birks brought Illinois within one, 22-21, but a Mancuso kill averted the tie, 23-21. Birks ripped another kill (23-22), but Broekhuis made it set point, 24-23. McMahon kept the Illini alive with a kill, but Werth smashed a rocket down the middle of the court to seal the deal for the Huskers, 25-23.

Nebraska began the third set with a 4-1 lead, but a pair of kills by Birks tied the score at four. Broekhuis took back the lead, 5-4, but a McMahon kill stole the lead, 6-5. However, that was the only lead the Illini would hold in the set, as Broekhuis and Werth replied with a pair of kills, to go ahead, 7-6. Another McMahon kill tied the score at seven, but Haggerty put the Huskers up 8-7. A Stark kill tied it at eight, but a McMahon service error made it 8-9. A kill by Tramer put the Huskers up 12-9, and Illinois was unable to re-tie the score, soon trailing 21-15. Erin Johnson recorded the final kill of the match for Illinois, as Nebraska won the final four points, backed by two blocks, to win the third set, 25-16, and sweep the match, 3-0.

The Illini hit the road next weekend, to take on Wisconsin and Minnesota in Big Ten play. Both teams are in the top five in the NCAA this season in home-match attendance. Illinois will face the Badgers on Friday at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, then take on the Golden Gophers at noon on Sunday.

"The kids are pretty resilient," said Hambly. "They want to make the tournament, they want to fight for that, so they know what they have to do to get there. We have no choice but to be resilient, come out and continue to fight."