Despite slow start, No. 6 Illini win in straight sets
Oct. 30, 2010
Champaign, Ill. - On the eve of Halloween, the No. 6 Illinois volleyball team had to pull out some tricks after falling behind then treated its fans to a three-set victory over Michigan State 25-19, 25-17, 25-20 at Huff Hall to maintain a two-match lead in the Big Ten standings with eight matches remaining.
Illinois hit for a high efficiency, committing only eight hitting errors and two service errors in brewing up the right formula for victory in front of a spirited crowd. While at times the Illinois play was a bit spooky and head coach Kevin Hambly admits there are still some gremlins to work out, the team exorcised some demons in pulling out a rare three-set victory. With middle blocker Erin Johnson playing her first full weekend since September, the Illini are also in the process of dusting off some cobwebs in getting used to a consistent line-up.
In the end, though, Illinois improves to 11-1 in the Big Ten and 19-3 overall to remain perfect at home this season, having now won 20 straight at Huff Hall dating back to the 2009 season.
"It is about the details and the little things and the little efforts that it takes to win sets," Hambly said in addressing some inconsistent play. "We have gotten away with it way too many times. It is frustrating because in order for us to take the next step as a team and really play at the level we want to, we have to take care of that."
After getting a scare in the opening set, the Illini came back from way back in the first set. Trailing 13-6 and 17-10 at one point in the set, Illinois rallied to outscore Michigan State 15-2 the remainder of the set. Illinois cooled off a hot-hitting Spartan team that was attacking at .400 at one point to force eight errors in the opening frame. Michelle Bartsch had five of her nine kills in the opening set.
The Illini played solidly in taking the second set, siding out at a 77-percent efficiency. The Illini broke open an 8-8 tie by going on a 10-4 run to push to a commanding 18-12 advantage. The block began to heat up with three in that set.
Illini went searching for a magic potion after again allowing Michigan State to push out to a lead in the third set. With Michigan State leading 19-16 in the set, the Illini out-scored the Spartans 9-1 the rest of the way to close out the match. Four of the last five points came on Illini blocks.
"With Erin back it makes a big difference," Hambly said. "She is a taller and fills more space. Erin and Bartsch are used to working together, and Erin and Hillary are used to working together. Having that group with two weeks of practice with it, we are starting to see results. I feel like we are going to get better at it as well."
Senior Johannah Bangert averaged two blocks per set on the weekend, leading the team with six blocks vs. MSU after tallying 10 blocks in a five-set victory over No. 15 Michigan on Friday. Offensively, Michigan State had a strong kill percentage, leading the Illini 44-34 in that department, but committed 26 hitting errors compared to just eight for Illinois. Illinois out-blocked MSU overall, 9-5 The Illini hit .277 on the night compared to just .161 for Michigan State.
Colleen Ward was the only Illinois player with double digits in kills with 11 to go along with four block assists and six digs. Freshman Jennifer Bonilla and senior Hillary Haen (26 assists) led Illinois with eight digs apiece. Johnson had six kills in seven swings on the night for an .857 hitting percentage while also adding three blocks.
"We were patient in our attack, more patient then we were last night," Hambly said. "I thought Hillary did a nice job of distributing the ball."
Illinois hosts Wisconsin on Wednesday night at 6 pm in a match broadcast live on the Big Ten Network.