Illini Keep on Rolling with Sweep of No. 18 Purdue
Nov. 16, 2013
Champaign, Ill. - The University of Illinois volleyball team kept their hot streak going tonight with a 3-0 victory over rival No. 18 Purdue in front of a packed house of 3,632 fans--the 11th-largest volleyball crowd in Huff Hall history. The Illini captured their fifth-straight victory, three of which have been over top-20 teams, to improve to 14-12 on the season and maintain sole possession of fourth place in the Big Ten at 10-6. The Illini have now won eight consecutive sets, taking tonight's trio with scores of 25-18, 25-18 and 25-21. While Illinois has been riding a hot streak, the Boilermakers were looking for their first win since the second of November, as they dropped their fourth straight tonight to fall to 16-11 (7-9 Big Ten).
"I like their fight," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly of his team's performance tonight. "I like their competitiveness. They were upset with how they played last time at Purdue, and I agree it's a good rivalry match for us. There's a lot energy and fight in this match, and a lot of respect, too. They play volleyball the way we play volleyball, and I think it makes for good matches. I think the coaches have a lot of mutual respect for the way we play, and it is fun to be a part of it. They're the closest team; Northwestern is a little bit further away, so I think there is some of that. They take care of business and they swept us last year, but this group wanted to do something different. I thought they came out and just really competed their butts off and fought and that was the biggest thing tonight. They fought to execute, not just fighting out of control, but fought to execute, and that's a big deal."
"For me it was an emotional match after losing to them the first time," said junior outside Morganne Criswell, who led the Illini in kills. "I've kind of been ready for this match ever since we played them. I thought it was an awesome, emotional match, and sweeping them was even better."
Redshirt freshman middle blocker Maddie Mayers had a strong night on the court, hitting .700 with seven kills and no errors, while slamming five big blocks for the Illini, including four stuffs in the third set alone.
"We worked on speeding up the slide with me and Lex this week, and we clicked really well," said Mayers. "It was a little rocky in practice this week, but I thought we were clicking great tonight."
"Our pins had a lot of great blocks," said Mayers. "My job is to touch as many balls as I can and I thought Liz, and Morganne, and Jocelynn just did a great job, an amazing job, just pressing them over and roofing them every time."
McMahon was solid on the attack as well, hitting .500 with 10 kills and just one error. Criswell led the Illini with 12 kills, hitting .391, and Jocelynn Birks put up an additional 10.
Senior Jennifer Beltran led the team with 10 digs from the back row, followed by Alexis Viliunas with eight, and Birks and Danielle Davis with six apiece. Viliunas tallied 33 assists, helping the Illini to hit .369, and Beltran chipped in an additional six.
Illinois' servers had a solid match, led by Birks with two aces, and an ace apiece by Viliunas, Davis, and Ali Stark. Conversely, the Illini had just four errors, a vast improvement over their 11 on Friday night against Indiana.
For Purdue, setter/outside Val Nichol and outside hitter Sam Epenesa each tallied nine kills, and Kierra Jones and Catherine Rebarchak put up six apiece. Nichol and Rachel Davis had 20 and 14 assists, respectively, while Jones and Carly Cramer each had a pair of service aces. Hillary Fox led the team with 10 digs, and Cramer had seven. Jones was tops on the Boilermakers with three blocks.
As a team, the Illini topped the Boilermakers statistically across the board, including out-hitting Purdue .369 to .217 and leading 10-4 in blocks. The Orange and Blue were also stronger on serve receive, siding out at 69%, including 78% (15-19) in the first set.
"I think we're playing better volleyball and we're competing at a high level," said Hambly. "Our passing is steadying out, and when they're not, our outsides are erasing the mistakes, which is not something we've typically been able to do in the past."
The first set was neck-and-neck early, as an ace by Nichol gave Purdue the first two-point lead of the night, 7-5. A service error followed by an ace by Davis tied the score at seven, and a solo block by McMahon handed Illinois a 10-9 lead. An ace by Birks put the Illini ahead 13-11, and a 4-0 run capped by two Criswell kills helped the Orange and Blue go up 17-12. The five-point lead would prove plenty for the Illini, as Mayers closed the frame with a kill for a 25-18 Illini win in set one.
"I think offensively we were doing a good job," said Criswell. "Sometimes we were relying on that a bit too much, but I think in the second and third sets our defense picked up and our all-around game was good."
Purdue went up 5-2 to start the second set, but the Illini used an 11-3 run to pull ahead 13-8, and Purdue never recovered. Back-to-back blocks by McMahon finished out the frame, 25-18, to give Illinois a 2-0 match lead.
Illinois wasted no time out of the gate in set three, climbing to an 8-2 lead, with the help of three Birks kills. Purdue battled back to within two, 10-8, but the Illini raced back out 17-11 on a Mayers-McMahon block. Purdue fought back again, making it 20-18 on an ace by Jones, but kills by Criswell and Dorn kept Illinois on top, and McMahon finished out the sweep with back-to-back kills to win the third set 25-21 and take down Purdue, 3-0, for the first time since 2009.
"We talk a lot about fighting," said Mayers. "I think we've been fighting a lot in these past matches and it's not over yet. We've got to keep pushing."
The Illini hit the road next weekend with a trip out East to Ohio State and No. 2 Penn State. Illinois faces the Buckeyes at 6 p.m. CT on Friday, Nov. 22, then takes on the first-place Nittany Lions at 6 p.m. on Saturday.