Setter Alexis Viliunas had a career-high 20 digs to go with her 44 assists and three kills.
Oct. 27, 2013
Madison, Wis. - Fresh from knocking off back-to-back top 10 opponents, No. 16 Wisconsin was riding some hot momentum into this afternoon's match, but the Fighting Illini had other plans, upsetting the Badgers, 3-1, on their home court with set scores of 25-22, 28-26, 10-25, 25-22. With the win, the Illini even their conference record to 5-5 through the first half of the Big Ten slate, sitting at 9-11 overall, while the Badgers take just their fifth loss of the season, sitting at 17-5 (6-4 Big Ten).
"I thought we came out and played really well in that first set.," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "We attacked and we competed at a high level. We've been talking a lot about playing determined and asserting our will on teams, and I thought we did that and did a really nice job with that. The second set was case and point of that; we struggled a little bit, but all we did was assert our will on them. We didn't play great, but we clawed, we fought, we scratched, we found a way to make plays and win. And that's what you have to do on the road in the Big Ten to win matches. I'm very happy with how we did that. It wasn't clean, we've got a long ways to go to get better, but I liked that part of it."
Junior Liz McMahon led the Illini offense with 20 kills, hitting .375 with three blocks. It marks the second time this week that she has put up at least 20 kills, having landed 21 at Northwestern on Wednesday.
"She's getting more comfortable being back on the right," said Hambly. "She's an All-American opposite if we win enough matches. She presents huge challenges and we need to find a way to keep her over there because she's so good out there."
Sophomore Jocelynn Birks registered a double-double with 15 kills and 10 digs to go along with five blocks, and junior outside Morganne Criswell registered 10 kills in the match. Redshirt freshman middle blocker Maddie Mayers added an additional six kills and a match-high six block assists.
The Illini put up solid numbers on defense, led by Jennifer Beltran with 21 digs and Alexis Viliunas with a career-high 20 to go along with 44 assists and three kills. Ali Stark registered nine digs, and starting defensive specialist Danielle Davis recorded eight, while Julia Conard, who replaced her for the second half of the match, tabbed an additional nine.
"I think we're a good defensive team," Hambly said. "Sometimes we don't give ourselves an opportunity because we're not attacking enough and don't put enough pressure on our passing and things like that, but we came in here and we out-defended them and that's huge for us."
For the Badgers, junior Deme Morales, standing at just 5-7, put up 17 kills and 18 digs. Fellow junior Ellen Chapman was right behind her with 16 kills, and Courtney Thomas had eight kills, adding 12 digs and two aces. Freshman setter Lauren Carlini proved why Coach Hambly referred to her has the most highly-sought high school recruit in her class, tallying 46 assists, 14 digs, six kills and two aces. Libero Annemarie Hickey led the Badgers with 21 digs, and Taylor Morey added 11. Dominique Thompson and Haleigh Nelson led the team with five blocks each, as Illinois and Wisconsin tied with 10.5 stuffs apiece.
"I thought Deme Morales did a nice job for them," said Hambly. "She put some pressure on the line, and Lex had her and I thought she did a nice job of handling her, as far as getting deflections. She hit a high number, but a lot of those were early and I thought later on we got better at stopping her, and towards the end she couldn't put a ball away, and that was a big key to us winning."
From a team stat perspective, Illinois reversed several of Wisconsin's season trends, as the Badgers entered the day 16-1 when registering more kills than their opponent (59-57 today), 15-0 when recording a higher hitting percentage (.218 to .204), 12-0 when hitting at least .200, and 8-0 in 4-set matches.
Illinois jumped out to a quick 4-1 lead to start the match, but a solid serving run by Ellen Chapman helped the Badgers tie the score at five. Mayers' next swing hit the antenna to give Wisconsin its first lead, but a Dorn-Criswell block put Illinois back in front, 8-7. The score remained knotted until a McMahon kill made it 13-11 Illini, but a block by Thomas and Nelson tied it once again at 13. Three straight kills by Birks and McMahon made it 16-13 Illinois, but Wisconsin forced its way back again to tie the score at 19. After an Illinois timeout, Criswell came out with a crucial kill to make it 20-19, and another McMahon kill sealed the deal for the Illini, 25-22.
The Illini overcame a set of 3-point deficits in the second to battle through to a 2-0 match lead. After trailing 10-7 and again 14-11, the Illini won four straight off three consecutive kills by Birks and a block by Mayers and Viliunas to snatch the lead back, 15-14. After a tie score of 18-18, the Badgers won four out of five to go ahead 22-19, but Illinois buckled down to win five straight points thanks to three McMahon kills and two Birks-Mayers blocks to reach set point, 24-22. Wisconsin did not back down either, tying the score at 24-24, then taking a 26-25 lead on a pair of Illini errors. However, Mayers kept the Illini alive with a kill to tie it at 26 and another kill by the redshirt freshman completed the set, as the Orange and Blue took the frame, 28-26, to go ahead 2-0 in the match.
It was all Wisconsin in the third set, as the Badgers ran out to a 6-0 lead, and despite an early comeback by the Illini, 6-3, the Badgers pushed back out 9-3 and went on to dominate the frame, 25-10, Several new faces saw court time in the frame, including Katie Roustio and Kathryn Polkoff.
"We were losing it," said Hambly. "I got them in a huddle and said let's get our heads together here. Let's focus on the next set, we're going to get it. Hit the reset button, take a deep breath, let's go. And they did."
Wisconsin began the fourth by winning the first two points, but Illinois tied the score at three with the help of a lights-out block by Mayers and McMahon. The score continued to be tied, 6-6, when the Illini won three straight thanks to kills by Criswell and McMahon to lead 9-6. Viliunas then won the battle at the net, striking three kills on four plays to give the Illini a 17-10 lead. Staring defeat in the face, the Badgers refused to give up, winning four straight and pulling as close as within one, down 21-20. A pair of McMahon kills made it 23-21 Illinois, and a slam by Mayers set up Illinois match point. Morales erased the first attempt with a kill, but Mayers did it again on the next play, handing the Illini a 25-22 win and a 3-1 match victory.
The Illini have another quick turnaround as they head to Lincoln, Neb., on Wednesday to take on the No. 13 Huskers to begin the second half of the Big Ten slate. The match will air live on the Big Ten Network beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 30, with Kevin Kugler and Kathi Wieskamp on the call.