Alexis Viliunas had a strong all-around performance with 33 assists, 14 digs and three blocks.
Nov. 15, 2013
Champaign, Ill. - The Fighting Illini continued their winning ways this evening, capturing their fourth straight victory with a sweep of neighboring Indiana. Despite the 3-0 score, the Hoosiers kept it tight the whole night, but Illinois showed its strength and determination at the end of each set, pulling away with set wins of 28-26, 25-18 and 25-22. With the win, Illinois improves to 13-12 (9-6 Big Ten) to post a winning record for the first time since Sept. 13, while Indiana drops to 9-17 (1-14 Big Ten).
"I think offensively we did some nice things especially in sets one and two, but we didn't defend as well as we'd like," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "I don't think we competed the way we wanted to until the end of sets. It was a little bit frustrating and something we'll need to change if we're going to win tomorrow night against Purdue. They're going to come in and compete and battle. I felt like they were waiting for things to happen instead of going and making things happen. Until the end of sets and then we found ways. That's an important skill and we didn't have that skill earlier in the year."
All three sets were close, but the Illini found ways to pull away at the end, including winning five of the last six points in both the second and third sets.
"We just had a sense of urgency," said junior middle blocker Anna Dorn. "We always talk in practice about those last five points, from twenty on, when need to fight the hardest, and we try to replicate that in practice all the time to make sure we're on top of execution in those tight moments."
The Illinois outside hitters combined for 38 of the Illini's 45 kills, splitting them evenly with 13 each from Morganne Criswell and Liz McMahon and 12 from Jocelynn Birks. None recorded more than four errors, led by Criswell, who hit .385.
Senior Jennifer Beltran put up 13 digs on the night, increasing her season total to 405 and moving into 10th place on the Illinois single-season digs list. Beltran, who broke Illinois' career record on Oct. 12 at Indiana, set the single-season record at 623 in 2010, and has now represents four of the top-10 single-season marks in Illinois history.
Setter Alexis Viliunas had a strong all-around night, putting up 33 assists, 14 digs and three blocks. Anna Dorn led the Illini with five of the team's eight stuffs, and true freshman Katie Stadick added an additional three to go along with four kills.
"She looked a little nervous in the first set, but then she settled down," Hambly said of Stadick, who made her first career start of Big Ten play. "She had some huge blocks in third that were big moments and some moves that she's been working really hard on. It was nice to see her execute that in a game. Offensively, she's got a great arm, and I really think she's going to be a special middle blocker. She has a lot to learn about the game. It's tough to be a freshman in the middle, playing in the Big Ten with a lot of tough offense coming at her. Once she settles down and understands it I think she's going to be great."
Across the net, the Hoosiers were led by hard-hitting middle blocker Awele Nwaeze with 11 kills, followed by Jordan Haverly with nine. Setters Katie Gallagher and Megan Tallman split the assists, with 16 and 15, respectively. Libero Caitlin Hansen led both teams with 21 digs, followed by Taylor Lebo with 11, and Chante George was tops on the team with four blocks.
"I don't understand how they're one-and-fourteen; they're better than that," said Hambly. "They have some players that can score. Leach, who is a local kid, she had some errors at the end but she was really tough to stop. Awele [Nwaeze] is a beast. They were setting her all over the place and we just had a really tough time stopping her. She was one of their better recruits. I thought we did a nice job on her, but she's a great player. They've been in a lot of sets that are close and just haven't been able to get over the top. I think they're tough like every other team in the Big Ten and you have to come prepared to battle."
The first set was as contested as they come, neither team leading by more than two, and soon the score was knotted at 21. A pair of Illini errors helped Indiana to a 23-21 lead, its first two-point lead of the set, but a Birks kill helped Illinois tie the score back at 23. Nwaeze struck a kill for Indiana set point, but she hit it out of bounds on the next play to tie it at 24. A kill by Criswell put Illini at set point, but after a well-timed Indiana timeout, Birks served one into the net. A Hammon-George block gave Indiana another bid to win it, 26-25, but Birks tied it with a swing. Viliunas and Dorn stuffed a huge block to give Illinois the lead, and Criswell finished it off with a kill, as Illinois took the frame, 28-26.
Illinois jumped out to an 8-4 lead to start the second with the help of back-to-back Criswell kills and a Dorn-Viliunas block, and the Orange and Blue held onto the small advantage through the set. After leading 21-18, Illinois finished strong, winning the final four points off a kill and back-to-back aces by Birks, followed by a Criswell-Stadick block down the left sideline to take the second, 25-18.
The third set proved another hard-fought battle, and despite an Illinois 17-14 lead, Indiana came right back to tie it at 18, then took a 21-19 lead on back-to-back kills by Haverly. However, the Illini refocused down the stretch, kick-started by a kill and a block from McMahon to help Illinois win six of the next seven points to take the set, 25-22, and win the match in three sets.
"For me personally, after we beat Michigan in that come-from-behind win we just have a lot of confidence and when we were playing against Michigan and Michigan State we felt like our team was playing together and that we were all playing with the same motive," said Dorn. "We weren't six different people out on the court; we were one unit. I think confidence combined with that feeling when we play teams is going to be really important going forward."
The Illini look to win their fifth straight with a visit by No. 18 Purdue on Saturday, Nov. 16. The Boilermakers came out on top in a hard-fought battle in West Lafayette earlier this season, so the Illini will be looking for revenge. The match will be streamed live on the Big Ten Digital Network beginning at 7 p.m.