Women's Volleyball
Spartans Get Revenge in Comeback Victory

Jocelynn Birks led the Illini with 22 kills against MSU, marking her ninth 20-kill match of the season.
Jocelynn Birks led the Illini with 22 kills against MSU, marking her ninth 20-kill match of the season.

Nov. 16, 2012

Box Score

Champaign, Ill. – The Michigan State volleyball team avenged their 5-set home loss to the Illini with a 3-2 comeback victory tonight at Huff Hall. Illinois won the first two sets, 25-23, but the Spartans claimed the final three, 25-17, 25-21, and 15-11, to earn their first victory at Huff since 2006. The Spartans gave the Illini a taste of the own medicine, after Illinois came back from down 0-2 to defeat MSU in five back on Oct. 13. The win lifts the Spartans to 22-7 (10-7 Big Ten), while the Illini fall to 11-16 (5-12). With the loss go the Illini’s tournament hopes, as Illinois can no longer finish .500 or better, rendering them ineligible for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"I think it was just a lack of confidence,” said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. “And it's frustrating cause you see in the first two sets the belief that 'we can win this'."

Jocelynn Birks led the Illini with 22 kills in the match, marking the ninth time this season that the redshirt-freshman has recorded 20+ kills. There are just five Illini who have recorded more 20-kill matches in a single season, with volunteer assistant Laura DeBruler being the only freshman to record more, tabbing 12 matches with 20-or-more kills in 2007.

Liz McMahon followed closely with 18 kills, adding two service aces, marking her 10th 15-kill match in the past 15 matches. Ali Stark had a solid outing, hitting .350 with nine kills, and Erin Johnson lead the Illini with a .538 attack percentage, tabbing eight kills.

Annie Luhrsen put up 53 assists in the match, and Jennifer Beltran led the back row with 22 digs, which increases her career total to 1,636 digs and moves her past Iowa’s Jenny Rees ’90 into 14th all time in Big Ten history for career digs. Freshman Julia Conard recorded 11 digs in the match, Birks earned eight digs and Stark added an additional six.

The Illini blockers teamed up for a total of 11 blocks in the match, including a season-high five block solos. Birks recorded her first multi-solo block night, registering two solo and two assists, McMahon tabbed two solo blocks and block assist, and Johnson added four block assists. Johnson now has 459 career total blocks, moving her past Betsy Spicer ’00 into sixth place all time at Illinois in career blocks. She is fourth all time in block assists, earning a total of 433 for her career.

Michigan State’s Lauren Wicinski led the Spartans’ offense with 20 kills, followed closely by Amy Dentlinger with 16. Setters Kristen Kelsay and Halle Peterson registered 36 and 24 assists, respectively, and Kori Moster led the back row with 15 digs. Dentlinger, Alexis Mathews and Jazmine White each had five block assists, tallying a total of 11 team blocks.

The Spartans out-hit the Illini .338 - .277, and led 72-62 in kills, while both team tabbed 50 digs and 11 blocks.

The first set was tight early, with the Illini holding a narrow, one-to-two-point lead, until the Spartans tied the score at seven on back-to-back kills by Kelsey Kuipers. Birks put Illinois back ahead with a kill, but another Kuipers kill tied it at eight. Play continued as such for the next eight points, when a lights-out service run by Jackie Wolfe and two kills and a solo block by McMahon put the Illini out in front, 16-11. The Spartans closed the gap to two, 17-15, but Illinois did not allow them any closer, and soon reached set point, up 24-20. Three-straight MSU points, including a kill and an ace by Jazmine White, brought the Spartans within one, 24-23, but McMahon sealed the deal with a kill on the ensuing play to win the first set for the Illini, 25-23. McMahon and Birks combined for 11 kills in the set, as the Illini hit a dazzling .400.

Michigan State took an early 4-1 lead in the second set, but a 5-0 Illini run handed the Illini a 7-6 lead, and soon Illinois was on top 13-10. The Illini stretched the lead to 18-14, but a 6-1 run by MSU, backed by two kills and a block by Dentlinger, put the Spartans back on top, 20-19. After a service error tied it at 20, the Spartans pulled ahead, 22-20, on a kill and an ace from Wicinski. A service error returned possession to Illinois, and two kills and a block by Birks made it 24-22, Illini set point. Birks next attack was blocks by Mathews and Dentlinger, but she found a whole on the following play to win the second set for Illinois, 25-23. Birks tabbed another five kills in the set, and Illinois hit .344 while holding MSU to just .286.

The Spartans won the first two points of the third set on a Kelsay ace and a Mathews kill, and MSU never relinquished the lead for the remainder of the frame. Illinois cut the deficit to one, 9-8, but the Spartans pulled ahead 13-9 and never allowed the Illini to come back within two for the remainder of the frame, eventually running away with it, 25-17. Illinois hit just .107 in the set with nine kills and six errors.

The Illini had an early 3-2 lead in set four, but the Spartans came right back to go ahead 4-3, and soon opened up a 10-6 advantage. Kills by McMahon and Birks made it 10-8, but MSU went right back up, 12-8. Luhrsen and McMahon each hit kills to make it 14-12, but the Spartans pulled further forward, 17-12. Back-to-back aces by McMahon forced the Illini within one, 19-18, but following an MSU timeout, McMahon served the ball into the net to break the run for the tie. The Spartans earned set point, 24-19, and after a bad set and a Birks solo block brought Illinois up to 21, Dentlinger slammed the final kill to win the set, 25-21, and force a fifth set. Wicinski registered seven kills on nine swings in the set and the team hit .452 with five blocks to lead MSU back from down 0-2 to tie the match at two.

With the Spartans’ fourth set victory, the Illini found themselves in their program-record 12th five-set match of the season, eclipsing the previous mark of 11 five-setters reaching in 2000. The Illini went 7-4 that year, while they are now 4-8 in tiebreaking sets in 2012. The Illini’s weakest five-set performance came in 2007, when the Illini went 1-9 in 10 extra-long matches.

MSU got two-straight kills from Galloway to begin the fifth set, and that proved a large enough lead to hold of the Illini in the fifth. After a Dorn-Stark block made it 2-1, the Spartans went back up 4-1. The Illini came close midway through the set, 9-7, but a Michigan State timeout led to another McMahon service error to make it 10-7. The Illini did not back down, and kills by Birks and Luhrsen kept Illinois in it, down 11-10, but Wicinski and Dentlinger put MSU up 13-10, and after a Johnson-Birks blocks made it 13-11, the Spartans completed the comeback with a Wicinski kill and a Peterson ace to earn their first victory in Champaign since 2006, by a score of 3-2.

Tonight’s match was the third five-setter in the past two seasons between the two teams. In each of the three, the home team won the first two sets and the away team won the third and fourth. Illinois hung out on to win at Huff on Oct. 25, 2011, and forced the comeback victory in East Lansing on Oct. 13, 2012, but Michigan State got their revenge tonight in the 3-2 victory.

The Illini will host their final match of the season at Huff tomorrow night, when they welcome Michigan to Champaign for Senior Night. The Wolverines defeated Illinois, 3-0, earlier this season in the Illini’s first mid-week match of the season. The match will be broadcast on both WDWS and WDAN following the football post-game show. Illinois’ five seniors, Jessica Jendryk, Erin Johnson, Annie Luhrsen, Tayler Onion and Jackie Wolfe will be honored following the match.