#3 Illini Dig In To Lend Support, Down Badgers
Oct. 28, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Fitting that in a night dubbed "Dig Pink" for breast cancer awareness, third-ranked Illinois out-dug the second-leading digs team in the Big Ten. The Illini moved to 21-1 overall and 10-1 in the Big Ten after posting a four-set 25-21, 20-25, 25-17, 25-20 victory over Wisconsin (13-10, 5-6).
"I think it means a lot to our players," Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said of the Dig Pink event "They have had a lot of people close to them get breast cancer so it is definitely something that means a lot to them. To being awareness to something like that is huge. I think it's a great event for a women's sport especially."
After both teams hit for a high percentage in the first set, the rest of the match saw a lot of long rallies, one of which saw Illinois reach near its bench to send over a free ball and eventually to win the point. Illinois won the digs battle, 67-65, and also out-blocked Wisconsin, 12-4.
Sophomore libero Jennifer Beltran led three Illinois players with double figure digs with 19. Senior Rachel Fledman added 14 while senior outside hitter Colleen Ward had a double-double with 12 kills and 13 digs.
The match was the first in the second half of the Big Ten season and the Illini defeated Wisconsin for the second time on the year. Playing in her first ever Big Ten match, middle blocker Anna Dorn had just one attack when the teams met in Madison back on Sept. 25. A run through the Big Ten has seen Dorn becoming a huge factor. Friday's victory was a great example as the redshirt freshman had nine kills and eight blocks while hitting .571.
"It's always our goal to get her more involved," Hambly said of Dorn. "She just didn't have the skill set to go against this team before and now she's developed the skills necessary to attack this team. I thought she did a great job."
The first half of the Big Ten was also the first round of conference play as a starter for junior Annie Luhrsen, whose growth as both a hitter and in engineering the Illinois attack was evident vs. the Badgers. The Wheaton, Ill., native hit .714 with five kills, tallied 42 assists, seven digs and two blocks; and set an offense that hit .258 on the night. Offensively, Bartsch led Illinois with 19 kills with nearly 40 percent of Illinois' swings.
"I thought it was a fun match," Luhrsen said. "They challenged us in ways that we don't always see against other teams. They run a very different, fast system to the outside and they had some athletic middles. I think overall it was just a lot of fun."
"She was offensive at the right times, and put pressure on them," Hambly said of Luhrsen's play. "They spread out and gave her some opportunities and she took advantage of it. I thought she made some nice plays. I think she's going in a great direction. She uses the middles more and she has more confidence in herself. She's embraced the position and is making it her own."
Both teams showed their offensive muscle in the first set with the Illini hitting at a .448 and the Badgers at .367. Ward got off to a hot start with five kills in seven attacks and Dorn was in on Illinois' two blocks. The Illini broke open an 8-8 tie with a 7-1 run to go up 15-9 and finished the set on a 4-1 run after the Badgers had closed to within 21-20.
Wisconsin turned the tables in the second set. After the Illini jumped to leads of 3-1, 7-5 and 9-7, Wisconsin scored four straight points to go ahead 11-9. The Illini never took the lead from there, hitting just .179. Courtney Thomas heated up with four kills in five attacks for the Badgers. Illinois sided out at just 50 percent and the Badgers scored five of the last six points of the set to pull away.
Illinois dominated set three, forcing the Badgers to hit just .098. The Illini used aggressive serving, especially early from Rachel Feldman, who served four straight points, and Bartsch, who scored twice off her serve, in building a 14-8 lead. The lead reached 18-11 before teams basically traded sideouts the rest of the way. Luhrsen had three big swings for kills in the set and Bartsch had four kills in her 17 swings in the set.
The Illini continued to thwart the Wisconsin offense attack in set four, forcing the Badgers to hit just .025 and lowering the visitors hitting percentage to .165. Much like set two, Wisconsin controlled the first third of the set, leading 9-7. The Illini then used a 6-1 run, the second part of which came off the serve of Jackie Wolfe (three aces), to build a 13-10 edge. The lead reached 18-14 as Illinois defended the Wisconsin attack well and fed Bartsch in the back row.
Illinois returns to the court Saturday night to meet No. 15 Minnesota. The Gophers (12-8, 5-6) fell at Northwestern in three sets Friday night.