Women's Volleyball
Illini Take Down Wolverines on Senior Night

Jocelynn Birks had a double-double with a career-high 25 kills and 16 digs in tonight's match.
Jocelynn Birks had a double-double with a career-high 25 kills and 16 digs in tonight's match.

Nov. 17, 2012

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Champaign, Ill. - The Fighting Illini volleyball team closed out their home season in style tonight, cruising past the University of Michigan Wolverines, 3-1 (22-25, 25-17, 25-23, 25-16), on Senior Night. Senior middle blocker Jessica Jendryk, playing in just her fourth career match for the Orange and Blue, hit a team-best .571 with five kills and a block assist to lead the Illini past Michigan in the final home match of the season. With the win, the Illini improve to 12-16 (6-12 Big Ten) while the Wolverines fall to 21-11 (9-9 Big Ten).

"It's awesome to end on a win," said Jendryk. "It's great to win in front of our fans here. They've meant a lot for us and so this one is for them, too."

Joining Jendryk in the starting lineup was fellow-senior Tayler Onion. Onion tabbed two kills on three swings in the first set, the first two slams of her career.

"Jess was great," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "We knew Jess would score and do everything and she's such a smart volleyball player. And Tayler, it's just exciting to get out there and get a couple kills and make a couple plays. I was really hoping she would get the last kill of the match, but I'm glad she could end her career on the floor. Her and Jess were on the floor out there and they don't get many opportunities to play, so it was nice to see that."

Outside hitter Jocelynn Birks, who split time with Onion, led the Illini with a carerer-high-tying 25 kills, tallying her 12th double-double with 16 digs, and added two aces and a block. Birks put up 22 kills on Friday night, totaling 47 on the weekend. She has registered 10 20-kill matches this season, which ranks sixth all-time at Illinois. Volunteer assistant Laura DeBruler is the only Illini ever to record more as a freshman, tallying 12 20-kill matches in 2007.

Liz McMahon had another prolific night, putting up 16 kills and two aces while hitting .308 with four digs and a block. Erin Johnson and Ali Stark each had six kills on 17 swings. Stark added nine digs, three assists and an ace, while Johnson had an assist, four digs and five block assists. The senior now has 438 block assists and 464 total blocks for her career, ranking fourth and sixth, respectively, at Illinois.

Annie Luhrsen tabbed her 18th career double-double with 47 assists and 10 digs to go along with four block assists and an ace.

"I think we're all really excited that we were able to pull out a win," said Luhrsen. "It was fun to have all those seniors out on the court, and it was so fun to be able to set Jess and Tay and see them be successful and I just had a great time tonight."

Jennifer Beltran and Julia Conard had 19 and 15 digs, respectively, to lead the Illini to a season-high 77 digs.

For just the third time this season, the Illini registered more aces than errors, putting up six aces and just five muffs. As a team, the Illini out-hit Michigan .304 to .202, leading in every other statistical category except blocks, where they trailed 8-6.

Lexi Erwin led the Wolverines with 17 kills, and Molly Toon and Jennifer Cross each had 12. Lexi Dannemiller registered 48 assists, and Tiffany Morales led the back row with a match-high 21 digs, followed by 14 from Ally Sabol. Cross and Claire McElheny each put up five block assists.

The first set was extremely tight, featuring 14 ties and seven lead changes. Michigan took the first real lead, pulling ahead, 7-4, on a kill by Cross, but the Illini came right back to go ahead 10-9 with four-straight kills served out by Beltran. The scored was tied on each ensuing point until a 3-0 run put the Illini ahead, 17-14, thanks to a pair of McMahon kills and an ace by Luhrsen. However, the Wolverines bounds right back to tie it at 18 on a kill by Krystalyn Goode. Birks scored the next point to make it 19-18, but a McElheny kill tied it at 19 and an Erwin-Goode block made it 20-19 Michigan. Birks tied the score at 20, but a service error regained Michigan's lead. Birks slammed yet another kill to tie it at 21, but a kill by Cross and a ball-handling error made it 23-21 Wolverines. Johnson stabbed a kill on the next play, 23-22, but Erwin closed out the set with a kill and an ace to take the frame, 25-22. Birks and Johnson combined for nine kills in the set as the Illini hit .359.

The Illini opened the second set with a 4-1 lead, but a pair of kills by Erwin tied the score at four. The Illini went right back up, 7-4, on a Birks service run, and never relinquished their lead, soon pushing ahead 12-7 and then 20-11. The Wolverines fought their way to 17 but could not overcome the vast deficit, as the Illini took the set, 25-17, on a block by Birks and Jendryk. Illinois held Michigan to just a .048 clip in the frame, as Birks and McMahon scored nine of the Illini's 10 kills.

The third set was almost as contested as the first, going back and forth with nine ties and six lead changes. Illinois opened with a quick, 4-2, lead, but the Wolverines turned around to take a 6-4 lead off two kills each from Erwin and Cross. The Illini won the next three to take the lead back, 7-6, bur back-to-back kills by Toon put UM up, 9-7. Jendryk tied the score at nine with a kill, but soon Michigan led, 13-11. A kill by Birks put the ball in McMahon's hand, as the sophomore served out a 7-point run featuring four kills by Birks to pulled ahead, 18-13. However, that was not enough to seal the deal, as the Wolverines came roaring back within one, 19-18. After an Illini timeout, Birks slammed another kill, making it 20-18, but kills by Dannemiller and Cross erased the Illini's five-point lead, tying it at 20. Illinois went ahead 23-20 on a Johnson-McMahon block, but the Wolverines hung tough, pulling within one, down 24-23, on a Dannemiller ace. With the fate of the match hanging in the balance, Jendryk stepped up to nail the final kill and give the Illini a key 2-1 match lead with a 25-23 third-set victory. Birks put up an impressive eight kills in the set and the Illini tabbed 22 team digs.

After eking out the valuable match lead, the Illini cruised to an early 6-3 lead in the fourth and never looked back. Earning a sideout rate of 75% (12-16), the Illini allowed back-to-back points to the Wolverines just three times in the set. After falling behind, 23-13, the Wolverines started to work on a comeback, scoring three-straight behind Tiffany Morales at the line, but the Illini closed out the set, 25-16, to capture the match, 3-1. The Illini hit .400 in the final frame, behind 11 kills by Birks and McMahon.

"I'm just happy for the seniors," said Hambly. "They get to end senior night with a W. Last night was soul crushing to be in that and to get in this, I thought we played really loose, we played free. Maybe there's no pressure on us anymore, but it was just nice to see the kids play and I thought we executed at a real high level against a very good, pesky Michigan team. I'm excited for the girls, especially the seniors."

The Illini hit the road on Wednesday for in-state rival Northwestern. Illinois defeated the Wildcats, 3-2, earlier this season on Oct. 17, earning a 7-1 record against NU since late 2008. The Illini will take on the Wildcats at 7 p.m. on Nov. 21 before finishing out the season at Iowa next Saturday.