Wildcats Stun Illini with Comeback Win in Five
Oct. 23, 2013
Evanston, Ill. - The Fighting Illini cruised to a 2-0 match lead at Northwestern this evening, but the Wildcats turned the tide after intermission, battling all the way back to win the match in five, with scores of 25-19, 25-19, 19-25, 19-25, 10-15. The win breaks the tie between the two teams in the Big Ten standings, as Northwestern pulls ahead to 13-8 (5-4 Big Ten), while Illinois drops to 8-11 (4-5 Big Ten).
For the second time this week, junior Liz McMahon led the Illini offense, registering her seventh career 20-kill match with 21 kills to go along with five blocks. Jocelynn Birks tabbed her fourth double-double in five matches, registering 14 kills and 11 digs, and fellow-outside Morganne Criswell recorded 10 kills. Middle blockers Maddie Mayers and Anna Dorn contributed on both sides of the net, combining for 14 kills and each putting up five block assists.
The Illini defense was solid, especially early, as Jennifer Beltran dug a season-best 26 balls, her most since tallying 27 against Wisconsin on Sept. 23, 2012. In doing so, she jumped another spot on the Big Ten digs list, passing Penn State's first libero Kaleena Walters '05 and into sixth all time with 1,979 career digs.
It was all Stephanie Holthus for the Northwestern offense, as the senior outside hitter tied her career high with 28 kills in the match, adding 11 digs, four blocks and an ace to score a total of 31 points for the Purple and White. The 2012 Third-Team All-American used the high-flying performance to move into second place all time at Northwestern in career kills, now with 1,628.
Katie Dutchman registered 14 kills for Northwestern and Savannah Paffen recorded 10, as Paffen added seven block assists, teaming up several times with Maggie Burhham, who had six kills and six blocks. Freshman setter Caleigh Ryan had a double-double with 58 assists and 15 digs, and libero Caroline Niedospial registered 27 digs.
Danielle Davis served out a strong opening drive, helping the Illini to a quick 4-0 lead, and the Wildcats never recovered, falling further and further behind as the set wore on. Despite a small push late in the set, Northwestern had too much ground to make up, as the Illini took the opening set, 25-19. McMahon and Birks, who combined for 58 kills in their previous trip to Evanston, dominated in the frame, as McMahon slammed seven kills and Birks had five kills and two blocks, while nine digs from Beltran held down a steady back line.
The second set was much like the first, as Davis jumpstarted the Illini for a 4-0 lead. A kill by Birks, set up perfectly by a bump set tight to the net by Dorn, extended the Illinois lead to 14-6, and soon the Orange and Blue led 17-9. Northwestern did not go quietly, battling its way back to within three, down 20-17, but the Wildcats would get no closer, as a McMahon kill made it Illini set point, and the Orange and Blue outlasted the Purple and White in a long rally to close the set, 25-19.
Illinois won the first point of the third set, but a kill by Dutchman tied the score, and the Wildcats surged on with a 7-0 run thanks to back-to-back aces by Niedospial to take a 7-1 lead, their first advantage of the match. A kill by Dorn finally forced the side out, but NU hung on to the lead. Illinois continued to fight, pulling as close as three, 21-18, on an ace by Courtney Abrahamovich, but the Illini were unable to come any closer, and NU took the third by a score of 25-19 to keep the match alive.
Kayla Morin opened the fourth set with a service ace, but followed with an error, and neither team would score on a serve again until the Wildcats took a 9-7 lead on a kill by Holthus. The Illini fought right back, as three straight blocks put Illinois on top, and a 6-0 run made it 13-9 Illini. Illinois stayed on top for a good stretch, but an NU block tied the score at 16. Criswell got the kill to put Illinois back ahead, but a kill and a block by the Wildcats gave them an 18-17 advantage. McMahon tied the score at 19 with a kill, but Northwestern fired off six straight points with the help of three kills and a block by Holthus to steal the set 25-19 and send the match to five.
The Wildcats won the first two points of the fifth, but four straight by the Illini put Illinois on top 4-2. Kills by McMahon and Birks pushed the Orange and Blue ahead 6-4, but a 7-0 run by the Wildcats with the help of four NU blocks turned the tables for an 11-6 lead, and the Wildcats went on to complete the comeback with a 15-10 victory in the fifth set.
Illinois hits the road again on Sunday, Oct. 27, as the Illini complete the first half of Big Ten play with a trip to No. 16 Wisconsin. The match will begin at 1 p.m. and will be streamed live on the Big Ten Digital Network.