No. 2 Nittany Lions Too Much For Illini
Nov. 8, 2012
University Park, Pa. - The Illini volleyball team suffered a rough loss in Happy Valley this evening, dropping a 3-0 contest at No. 2 Penn State. Erin Johnson was a bright spot for the Illini, stuffing six blocks and eight kills, but it wasn't enough, as the Illini fell 25-17, 25-17, 25-14 in straight sets. The win lifts Penn State to 24-2 (14-1 Big Ten), while Illinois drops to 11-14 (5-10 Big Ten).
Johnson led the attack with eight kills, hitting .294, and stuffed a match-high six blocks. She increased her career total to 417 block assists, jumping yet another spot on the Illini charts to fifth all-time at U of I. Jocelynn Birks tabbed five kills, but had six errors, and Liz McMahon had four kills and eight errors, and the team hit a season-low .034. Starting setter Annie Luhrsen had 15 assists, and freshman Alexis Viliunas tabbed six and an ace in the third set. McMahon put up three aces in the second set, and Birks and Jennifer Beltran manned the back line with 12 and 11 digs, respectively. Beltran now has 407 digs on the season, good for ninth all-time at Illinois; the junior libero set the best two single-season marks in Illini history the past two years.
Penn State's Deja McLendon was the lone player with double-digit kills, hitting .310 with 11 kills, and Nia Grant hit .600 with six kills on 10 errorless swings. Micha Hancock had 21 assists, five kills and an ace, and Katie Slay tabbed a team-high five blocks.
Penn State jumped out to a 10-2 lead early in the first set, thanks to a 7-point service run by the Big Ten's ace leader Micha Hancock. A kill by Johnson snapped the streak, but soon Penn State led 14-4. The Illini did not bow down, battling their way back into the set, 23-17, but following a PSU timeout, an Illini service error and a Hancock kill finished the frame with a 25-17 PSU victory.
The Illini began the second set with back-to-back aces by McMahon, but a pair of kills by Ariel Scott gave PSU the lead, 3-2. Illinois took the lead right back, 7-4, on a solid service run by Beltran and a pair of Johnson blocks, and the Illini held onto their advantage for the majority of the set. After trailing 15-12, PSU won three-straight points off a Scott-Slay block and a tough Gonzalez serve, to tie the score at 15, but a Johnson kill regained the Illini lead, 16-15. A service error knotted the score at 16, but another Johnson kill kept Illinois on top, 17-16. However, the Nittany Lions then went on a 9-0 year, served out by Maddie Martin, to erase the early deficit and win the second set once again by a score of 25-17.
It was all Penn State in the third set, as the Nittany Lions cruised to a mystifying, 11-1, lead. Freshman setter Alexis Viliunas replaced Annie Luhrsen in the lineup, which seemed to even the teams some, but the 10-point deficit was way too much to overcome, as Penn State finished off the match with a 25-14 victory. The 11-point deficit was the largest for the Illini since the first set of the season, when the Orange and Blue lost 25-14 at Dayton.
The Illini return to action on Saturday night, when they take on the Buckeye of Ohio State. The match is set to begin at 6 p.m. CT in Columbus.