No. 4 Nebraska tops No. 1 Illini for Big Ten lead
Oct. 22, 2011
Lincoln, Neb. - The eyes of the volleyball nation were on Lincoln, Neb., Saturday night as No. 1 Illinois descended on the NU Coliseum to meet No. 4 Nebraska. The teams entered the match with just one loss between them and were undefeated in the Big Ten. A sellout crowd of 4,198 saw the host Huskers hand the Illini their first loss of the season with a 24-26, 25-18, 25-19, 25-11 victory.
"It was a great environment for us to play," Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said. "I'm glad we got that experience. That will only help us down the road because we need to know how to respond to this and do a better job the next time."
Nebraska jumped to leads in all four sets, and aside from the first, the Illini were unable to come back. Nebraska hit .361 for the match, including a dominating .696 in the fourth set to improve to 17-1 overall and 10-0 in the Big Ten. Illinois falls to 20-1 overall and 9-1 in the conference.
Senior All-American outside hitters Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward did their best to rally the Illini. Bartsch, who had 22 kills and nine digs while hitting .293 on the night, was especially potent in the first set with seven kills in 11 swings. Ward, meanwhile, hit .308 with 17 kills and 10 digs.
"I thought both Bartsch and Ward were good," Hambly said. "They hit close to .300. They were the ones that carried us. They just needed a little more help at times."
The crowd was loud all night, but after Nebraska built leads of 6-3 and 11-8 to start the match, the Illini stemmed the tide. With the first set tied at 18-18, Ward had two big aces to give Illinois a 20-18 lead. The senior from Naperville ended the night with five aces. Erin Johnson teamed with Annie Luhrsen for a block to make it 23-20 Illinois and added a kill on the slide to put her team up 24-22. After Nebraska tied it at 24-24, Johnson pulled the Husker block into the net for a kill then Nebraska had a hitting error, giving the first set to Illinois.
"I thought we did a good job of pressuring them and keeping their emotions down in that first set," Hambly said. I thought winning the first set was a big deal, but we needed to keep it going. In the first rotation of the second set, I think we missed five serves and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the match. We fought hard, but we didn't play to the level we needed to after that."
The first set was offensive with Illinois and Nebraska hitting .429 and .412, respectively. The second set was much different with longer rallies and a few more errors. The Illini had nine attack errors and six service errors in the set as Nebraska pulled away, 25-18.
After that, Nebraska turned up the wick offensively and Illinois had no answer thanks to a balanced Nebraska attack. Lefty Morgan Broekhus, hitting mainly from the right side, paced four Nebraska players with double figure kills with 17. Gina Mancuso (15), Hannah Werth (14) and Brooke Delano (11) also reached that mark. The Huskers hit .400 in the third set then .696 in the fourth set in rolling to the victory.
"We needed to do a good job of serving and getting them out of system, but we didn't execute," Hambly said. "They got rolling and played at a level we knew they were capable of playing, but we just couldn't slow them down. We learned that we need to play within ourselves. We got outside of ourselves at times. We pressured ourselves to make plays so we rushed things. We have to be very patient with our style."
Illinois starts the second half of the Big Ten at home with matches against Wisconsin (Oct. 28) and Minnesota (Oct. 29).