Erin Johnson led the team with a season-best nine blocks against Indiana
Nov. 3, 2012
Champaign, Ill. - The Illinois volleyball team earned a much-needed win this evening, defeating Indiana, 3-1 (25-22, 25-17, 22-25, 25-18), in Big Ten play. The Illini snapped a 4-match skid to improve to 11-13 (5-9 Big Ten), while Indiana fell to 11-15 (3-11 Big Ten).
"I'm happy we got a win for the kids," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "They played hard; they've been playing hard the past several matches and they played hard tonight. They got really anxious in that third set when they had a chance to win it, just like versus Purdue. I'm glad we had another one to work it out and you could see them get a little loose in that fourth and I'm just happy for them.
"They come and play hard in practice and they play really hard in matches. I'm happy with how they played and executed. I wish we would've missed less serves and kept pressure on them; I think we might have blocked more balls if we had missed less serves. But overall I'm pleased that we got a W, they've been working hard for it."
After landing just three blocks through the first two sets, the Illini exploded for 12 in the final two frames, spearheaded by nine blocks, by Erin Johnson. The senior middle tied her season best for total blocks and matched her career high with two solo blocks. Her seven block assists move her past Betsy Spicer '00 and into fifth place all-time with 418 block assists, sitting just two shy of student assistant coach Michelle Bartsch '11 in fourth. As a team, the Illini put together a total of 15.0 blocks, the most since the 15.5 they stuffed at Indiana on Sept. 28. In addition to Johnson, Anna Dorn, Jocelynn Birks and Ali Stark each stuffed four blocks of their own.
"We talked about coming out strong and staying consistent throughout, attacking and being aggressive," Birks said, "so I think that had a lot to do with the win."
Birks led the team, tabbing just three errors for a .392 hitting percentage. She topped her Big Ten personal bests in both kills and hitting percentage, and nabbed her eighth 20-kill match of the season, tied for ninth-most all-time at Illinois.
"I was just trying to be myself and play as relaxed as I could," said Birks. "I just got in a groove and was trying to get kills."
Liz McMahon hit .314 with 15 kills, and Stark added an additional six kills and seven digs. Jennifer Beltran put up 15 digs in the back row, and Julia Conard added eight digs and her first two career service aces.
Annie Luhrsen recorded her 2,500th career assist for the Orange and Blue, setting Birks in the third set to pull the Illini within one, and tabbed a total of 44 assists in the match to go along with two aces, seven digs and three blocks.
The team hit .299 in the match while holding the Hoosiers to a Big Ten low .105, forcing 31 attack errors. The Orange and Blue out-blocked the Hoosiers 15-8 and led 55-44 in kills, but Indiana was much more consistent on the serve, as the Illini served up a season-worst 16 errors as compared to just four by the Hoosiers.
The first set began with a 5-5 tie, until Illinois went on a 5-1 run, led by a kill each by four different Illini, to go ahead 10-6. The Hoosiers came right back to tie it with a four-straight points served out by Kyndall Merritt, but the Illini replied with an 8-1 run, fueled by two aces and three Stark kills to take an 18-11 lead. Illinois pushed its way to a 22-15 lead, but the Hoosiers did not back down, winning the next four straight points, and soon cutting the deficit to two, down 23-21. A McMahon kill made it Illinois set point, but a ball-handling error kept Indiana alive. McMahon then put the finishing touches on the set, nailing a kill to win the first frame, 25-22. The Illini hit .389 in the set, landing just two attacks out of bounds, and were led by five kills and no errors by Jocelynn Birks.
The Illini took a 10-5 lead early in the second set, but the Hoosiers kept it close, cutting the lead to two, down 12-10. Indiana continued to battle, but was unable to get closer than two, and soon Illinois pressed ahead 19-14 with a 3-0 run aided by a Luhrsen ace. After an Indiana block got the Hoosiers to 17, the Orange and Blue closed out the set with a pair of kills by Birks and an Indiana error to win the second set, 25-17. Liz McMahon led the attack for the Illini in the second frame, landing four kills in seven flawless swings, while the Illini defense held Indiana to a .033 hitting percentage.
The Hoosiers turned the tables in the third set, winning the first two points and never allowing the Illini to tie the score. Although their greatest lead in the set was just three, Illinois was never able to string together more than two points in a row. Birks tabbed eight kills and no errors in the set, and the team stuffed a total of five blocks, three by Johnson, but the Hoosiers edged the Illini, 25-22, with Haverly laying down the final kill.
"I thought for a majority of the match, it (competitiveness) was there," Johnson said. "I think in the third set we relaxed a little bit and that just has to do with getting comfortable after winning the first two sets. We talked about that and I thought we did a better job in the fourth set of staying on it."
The Illini block came alive in the fourth set, as the team laid down a total of seven, including four by Johnson. Illinois began with a 3-1 lead, but the Hoosiers tied the score and took an 8-6 lead on a kill by Samantha Thrower. Back-to-back Hoosier attack errors knotted the score at 10, and a pair of kills by Birks and Julia Conard's first career service ace completed a 6-0 Illinois run to give the Orange and Blue a 14-10 lead. The Illini cruised to a 20-13 advantage with Tayler Onion behind the service line, and a kill by Birks finished off the night with a 25-18 Illinois victory.
The Illini hit the road on Thursday for a match at No. 3 Penn State to be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network. Opening serve is set for 7 p.m. Central.