Illini Fall in Four at UW Field House
Oct. 26, 2012
Madison, Wis. - The University of Illinois volleyball team took a tough loss in Madison, Wis., this evening, winning the first set, 25-22, but dropping the next three to fall in four to the University of Wisconsin, 3-1 (25-22, 20-25, 23-25, 22-25). The loss marks the first time this season that the Illini have fallen to a team that has not been ranked at any point in 2012. The Badgers earn their first victory over the Illini in 10 contests, improving to 16-8 (4-7 Big Ten), while the Illini drop to 10-11 (4-7 Big Ten).
Liz McMahon led the Illini offense with 16 kills, making just three errors to hit .310 on the evening. Jocelynn Birks followed with 13 kills, adding 10 digs for a double-double. Erin Johnson hit .364 with eight kills and no errors, and tied for the team lead with four block assists. With her final BA, Johnson moved past Sara Sorrell into sixth place all time at Illinois with 402 career block assists. Anna Dorn and Liz McMahon each chipped in an additional four blocks.
Jennifer Beltran manned the back line for the Illini, snagging 20 digs, and Julia Conard set a new personal best with nine. Alexis Viliunas and Ali Stark both contributed nine digs as well. Beltran continues to move up the Big Ten record books in career digs, jumping past Indiana's Juli Pierce '08 and Iowa's Pam Kavadas '04 into 18th all-time in conference history, now owning 1,541 career digs.
Alexis Viliunas and Annie Luhrsen shared setting duties in the match, with Viliunas playing the majority of the first and third sets and Luhrsen setting much of the second and fourth sets. Viliunas put up 23 assists to go along with two service aces, and Luhrsen totaled 17 assists.
The Wisconsin blockers dominated the Illini's offense, with Alexis Mitchell, Julie Mikaelsen and Mary Ording combining for 22 block assists, as the Badgers out-blocked Illinois, 14-9. Mikaelsen led the match with 19 kills, followed by Mitchell with 14, and libero Annemarie Hickey tabbed 30 digs. Courtney Thomas put up 47 assists and 12 digs, and Mitchell added a trio of aces.
The Illini had just six unforced hitting errors, as compared to 22 by the Badgers, but Wisconsin out-dug Illinois, 82-67 and led 60-46 in kills to claim the win. The match was riddled with blocks and long rallies, leading both teams to record low hitting percentages, with the Badgers edging the Illini .171-.155.
The Badgers opened the match with a decisive 10-3 lead, backed by a six-point service run by Courtney Thomas, but a matching run served out by Viliunas pulled the Illini out in front, 15-13. Illinois pushed its lead up to 23-16 on a 6-0 run, but Wisconsin would not back down, as the Illini needed five set points to win the set, claiming the frame on a Stark kill, 25-22. McMahon led the Illini with six kills and two blocks in the set.
Set two started much like the first, with the Badgers cruising to an early, 11-5 lead. Wisconsin continued to hold a comfortable lead in the set, soon opening up a 20-12 gap. However, the Illini battled right back, winning eight of the next 12 points to pull within four, 24-20, forcing a Wisconsin timeout. The Badgers returned from the break with a game plan, and finally closed out the set on their fourth try at set point, evening the match at 1-1 with a 25-20 victory. Jocelynn Birks, who was replaced in the rotation by Morganne Criswell for most of the first set, landed a team-high five kills in the frame.
The third set was as contested as they come, featuring 11 ties and four lead changes. Wisconsin began the frame with a 5-1 lead, backed by a trio of blocks by Mikaelsen, Mitchell and Ording. A Birks kill sparked a 4-0 Illinois run to tie the score at five, but Wisconsin used a service error to stay on top, 6-5. McMahon tied it at six, but a Thomas kill regained the Badger lead, 7-6. McMahon knotted the score again, and a pair of Badger errors gave Illinois its first lead of the set, 9-7. Three-straight points by the Badgers put Wisconsin back on top, 10-9, but a service error tied the score at 10. Illinois then pushed ahead 13-10, and after a Wisconsin timeout, the Illini extended the lead to 15-11. A Mikaelsen-Ording block and a kill from each of them pulled Wisconsin within one, 15-14, but a Johnson blast kept the Illini on top, 16-14. A tough serve by Jackie Wolfe extended the lead to 17-14, but Wisconsin came right back to tie it at 17. A Dorn-Birks block moved the Illini out in front, 20-17, but four-straight points by the Badgers put Wisconsin back in the lead, 21-20. Birks struck a kill to tie it at 21, but Graff put UW back up, 22-21, with a kill. A service error by Deme Morales evened the score at 22, but a Mitchell kill made it 23-22 Wisconsin. Johnson and McMahon teamed up to block Chapman and tie the score at 23, but Thomas and Mikaelsen each landed kills to steal the set from the Illini, 25-23. Mikaelsen was the star of set three, tabbing six kills, five blocks and an ace in the frame.
The Badgers opened up a narrow lead to start the fourth set and never relinquished it. Wisconsin led 10-6 early, and after Illinois closed the gap to two, 10-8, the Badgers pulled way out in front, 16-9. The Fighting Illini did not despair, cutting the deficit in half, 19-16. A service error and a Mikaelsen kill helped Wisconsin to a 21-16 lead, but a McMahon kill and a Luhrsen-Johnson block made it 21-18. Mikaelsen landed another kill (22-18), but a Stark kill and a Badger error closed the cap to two, 22-20. Mikaelsen put UW up 23-20, but another Graff error made it 23-21. Mitchell struck a kill to reach match point, but a Birks kill kept Illinois alive, 24-22. However, Luhrsen then took to the serving line and ripped the ball into the net to finish off the match with a 25-22 victory for the Badgers and Wisconsin's first defeat of Illinois since 2007. Johnson led the Illini in the final set, striking five kills on nine flawless swings, but an additional six kills by Mikaelsen sealed the deal for the Badgers.
The Illini take a travel day on Saturday before returning to the court on Sunday to face No. 10 Minnesota at Williams Arena. The Illini will look to avenge their 3-set loss in the 2012 Big Ten opener, when they take on the Golden Gophers at noon on Oct. 28. Minnesota will provide a live video stream, and Dave Loane and Marla Glasser can be heard on the radio on WDWS 1400AM in Champaign or online on Illini All-Access.