Women's Volleyball
Halloween Heartbreak at Huff: Purdue Defeats Illinois, 3-2

Jennifer Beltran moved into 15th all-time in the Big Ten in career digs with 24 tonight.
Jennifer Beltran moved into 15th all-time in the Big Ten in career digs with 24 tonight.

Oct. 31, 2012

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Champaign, Ill. - The Illinois volleyball team hosted No. 22 Purdue University this evening in `Halloween at Huff.' After taking a 2-1 lead in the match, the Illini found themselves in their 10th 5-setter of the season, and for the second time this year, fell to the Boilermakers by a score of 3-2 (26-24, 20-25, 21-25, 25-20, 15-9). Purdue improves to 17-7 (8-5 Big Ten), while the Illini drop their fourth-straight match, falling to 10-13 (4-9 Big Ten).

"I liked the effort the whole time," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "I thought they fought hard and they competed. I thought at times we did a really good job of playing defense and we went up there and we scrapped and we clawed and we fought, but when it came time in the fifth we didn't execute. A lot of that just has to do with confidence, and being in that situation the last several weeks and not performing, it's hard to have confidence."

Liz McMahon led the team with 22 kills in the match, just one shy of her career high set against Ohio State on Oct. 5.

"I think Lizzie has been great for us in matches," said junior Jennifer Beltran. "She's definitely grown, I believe, but everyone has room for improvement and we all have that same mentality, and Liz expects a lot from herself too."

Jocelynn Birks notched her 10th double-double of the season with 15 kills and 10 digs, adding a team-season-high three aces and three blocks. Erin Johnson had a solid night offensively, hitting .421 with 10 kills, not committing an error until the fourth set, and adding four block assists. Annie Luhrsen started at setter for the Illini and recorded 51 assists, nine digs and four block assists.

Ali Stark shined on defense, slashing her personal best with 20 digs, adding an ace, a block and three kills. Jennifer Beltran led the match with 24 digs, moving her up three spots and into 15th all-time in Big Ten history with 1,574 career digs. The junior libero passed Wisconsin's Kim Kuzma (1,553), Purdue's Becky Kanitz (1,564) and Stacey Gordon (1.572) of Ohio State over the course of the match. She needs 59 to overtake Jenny Rees of Iowa in 14th. Anna Dorn led the defense at the net with five blocks, and Julia Conard tabbed seven digs.

"We had moments where, like we've been saying all season, where we can see we're good," said Beltran, "when we're on top of our assignments, when we're executing the technique and everything we talk about. But what really matters is the very last point and we definitely didn't step up to the plate how we should have. But we know it's there, we just didn't show up."

Catherine Rebarchak led the Boilermakers with 18 kills, followed by Kierra Jones with 13. Anna Drewry hit .727 with nine kills on 11 swings with just one error, and added a match-leading seven block assists. Rachel Davis put up 53 assists and finished a double-double with 14 digs, and Carly Cramer led the back row with 20 digs.

The match marked the 10th time this season that the Illini have gone to five sets, and the seventh Big Ten match that has ended with the tiebreaking set.  Of Illinois' nine home matches, six of them have needed five sets to establish a winner.

For the first time all season, the Illini won the third set but did not win the match. Entering the night, Illinois was 9-0 when winning the third set and 1-12 when losing the third. Additionally, it is just the second time this season that the Orange and Blue have lost a match after leading 2-1; Ohio State came back from down 2-0 to defeat Illinois at Huff on Oct. 5.

The Illini held the Boilermakers to low hitting efficiencies in the first three sets, including .069 in the third, but Purdue bounced back in the final two, hitting .375 and .368 in the fourth and fifth sets, respectively. In contrast to Illinois' best-hitting match of the season at Purdue, where the Illini attacked at a .370 clip, the Orange and Blue were held to .170, committing a season-high 31 attack errors.

Illinois opened the match with a 3-0 lead on a Luhrsen-Dorn block and kills by Birks and McMahon. The Boilermakers bounced right back with four-straight, taking a 4-3 lead on an Illinois attack error, but a Birks kill tied it at four. Both teams traded points over the next several plays, until the Illini got a 9-7 lead off a Boilermaker error. Purdue tied it at nine, but a Johnson kill put Illinois back on top, 10-9. After a kill by Drewry knotted the score at 10, Annie Luhrsen dunked over a kill, then served up three-straight points for a 13-10 lead. The Illini maintained an advantage until a 3-0 run by Purdue tied it at 15. The score stayed tied at each number, up to 20-20, when Illinois put together a three-point run to take a 22-20 lead on a Dorn kill, forcing a Purdue timeout. Catherine Rebarchak scored the next point, but Illinois went up 23-21 on a kill by McMahon. Kills from Jones and Nichol tied the score, but another McMahon kill made it Illinois set point, 24-23. Kierra Jones kept Purdue alive with a kill, then an attack error gave Purdue set point, 25-24, and Drewry closed out the set with a kill to steal the set away with a 26-24 Boilermaker victory.

The Boilermakers took a slight lead early in the second set, going up 3-1 on back-to-back kills by Rebarchak. Illinois tied it at four, then five, then again at six, before taking its first lead of the set, up 8-6 on a Johnson-Luhrsen block. Jackie Wolfe took to the service line and pulled the Illini ahead, 12-7, on four strong serves including an ace. Purdue pushed back within two, 12-10, but the Illini capitalized on a trio of Boilermaker errors to go back up, 15-10. After trailing 18-13, Kierra Jones served up a comeback for Purdue, pulling within one, 18-17, but a roll shot by Johnson averted the tie, and a Birks kill lifted the Illini up, 20-17. Nichol picked up a Purdue kill, but Birks proved unstoppable, closing out the set with four kills and an ace, as the Illini evened the match with a 25-20 win in set two.

The Illini earned an early 8-5 lead in the third set, holding onto their advantage through the first half, but a 4-0 run aided by four-straight Illini errors put the Boilermakers on top, 15-14. It wouldn't last long, as the Illini used a 5-0 run with two kills by Birks, a Johnson kill and a Stark ace to pull ahead, 20-16. Back-to-back blocks brought Purdue back within one, 21-20, but a service error by Val Nichol ended the bid for a tie, and an attack error by Turner sealed the deal for  a 25-21 Illinois victory.

The Boilermakers turned it around in the fourth set, jumping out to an early, 4-1, lead and never looked back. After hitting .069 in the third set, Purdue attacked at a .375 clip in the fourth, with 17 kills and just five errors. The Boilermakers stretched their lead to 12-7 on a kill by Drewry, and after Illinois closed the gap to 13-10, kills by Drewry and Rebarchak pushed them right back up 16-10. The Orange and Blue cut the deficit in half, 19-16, but that was the closest they would get, dropping the fourth, 25-20.

"We believe in them as a staff," said Hambly. "I think that they can win those sets and they can do things, but it's not about what we think, it's about them being in that moment and competing. It's a struggle for them, of course, it would be for anyone. It's human nature the way we've been playing to not let those thoughts creep in, but what we have to do is replace them with positive thoughts and that's what we're working on right now. And at times I thought we did a great, great job of that and at times I didn't, but the effort was there."

Illinois, no stranger to fifth sets, entered the evening with a 2-0 streak in tiebreakers, defeating Northwestern, 15-9, and Michigan State, 15-8. However, Purdue came to Champaign riding a 12-match winning streak in 5-setters dating back to 2010. The Boilermakers cruised to a 5-0 lead to start the fifth, thanks to a trio of blocks by Kierra Jones. Alexis Viliunas entered the match and led Illinois to three-straight kills, making it 5-3. Purdue reached eight points on a kill by Kierra Jones, up 8-5, and as the teams switched sides, Luhrsen returned to the court for the Illini. Another Purdue block made it 10-5 Boilermakers. Morgan Criswell chipped in a kill, and Birks hit two in a row to make it 11-8, but the Illini would muster just one more point, a Dorn-Birks block, before Purdue put the match away, as the Boilermakers claimed their second-straight 3-2 victory over Illinois with a 15-9 fifth set.

"The best thing to do is you have to stay positive no matter what,"
 said Beltran. "We've been talking this whole week about just believing; the moment you let go of that is the moment you're in trouble and it's something that we constantly kept repeating in the huddle and telling each other is to keep that mentality, and to keep pushing, and to keep fighting. And it's not easy, especially when you're down 5-0. It's hard and we've just got to find a way to keep supporting each other through it."

The Illini complete the homestand on Saturday night with a visit by the Indiana University Hoosiers. The Orange and Blue defeated Indiana, 3-1, on the road on Sept. 28 in their last meeting. The match is slated to begin at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on BTN.com.