Senior Colleen Ward hit .419 and had 21 kills against Michigan, just one shy of her season high.
Nov. 19, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After struggling on the offensive end against the Spartans on Friday, No. 7 Illinois bounced back by hitting .361 in a 3-1 victory (22-25, 25-14, 27-25, 25-21) over No. 23 Michigan (19-11, 7-11 Big Ten) on Saturday night at Cliff Keen Arena. Senior Colleen Ward paced the Illini with a .419 attack percentage and 21 kills, just one shy of her season high. Freshman Liz McMahon (13) and junior Erin Johnson (8) also came up big with 21 combined kills and only one error for the Illini, who moved to 25-4 overall and 14-4 in the Big Ten.
"Colleen carried the load and was unstoppable tonight," head coach Kevin Hambly said. "Annie distributed the ball really well, and it was fun to see. She got comfortable and started to look like the Annie of last weekend after struggling a bit last night. We started playing the way we needed to play to get back on track."
After splitting the weekend trip to Michigan for the third year in a row and seeing Penn State knock off Purdue on Saturday, the Illini will enter the final week of Big Ten play in a tie for second place with the Nittany Lions and Boilermakers. All three teams trail Nebraska (16-2) by two games with two matches remaining.
The Illini, who hit over .300 in all three sets they won, matched their fewest errors in a four-set match this season with 10 and held a 12-2 blocking advantage over the Wolverines, who only hit .190 on the evening. Both Ward (21 kills, 10 digs) and senior Michelle Bartsch (15 kills, 11 digs) turned in their 16th double-double of the year. Senior setter Annie Luhrsen reached 50 assists for the sixth time this season while sophomore Jennifer Beltran (15) and senior Rachel Feldman (13) each had double-digit digs.
"Our defense really buckled down and came up big down the stretch," Hambly said. "Rachel made some big plays and Beltran made it look easy. Our middle back defense also was lot better tonight than it has been in the past."
In the opening frame, the Illini out-hit Michigan .222 to .216, but were hurt by four service errors in a tightly-contested set that had 17 ties. The Illini were nearly flawless in a dominating set two victory, as they hit .586 with 19 kills and only two errors. Ward led the way with nine kills, McMahon was a perfect 5-for-5 and Johnson connected on both her attempts. The six points that did not come from kills for the Illini were thanks to three Michigan attack errors, a pair of Illini blocks and one service ace by Bartsch.
Illinois' offense continued to click in the third set, where they pulled it out late after facing a set point at 24-23. McMahon, who had a key block to keep the Illini alive and tie it at 24, put the Illini in front 26-25 on a kill before Johnson finished it off with a kill. Bartsch also had her best set of the night with six kills.
During the final set, the Orange and Blue closed out the night by hitting .389, as six different Illini recorded kills. Bartsch and Ward each had four, McMahon added three, Dorn and Johnson each had a pair on three attempts and Luhrsen connected on her only attack.
"We continue to get better as a volleyball team, so I am excited to see where it can go," Hambly said. "We have a lot of potential, and I feel really good about this team. If we keep our head straight, we can maybe make a nice run."
Illinois will wrap up the regular season with a pair of home matches next week at Huff Hall. The Illini will face Northwestern on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. before ending the Big Ten campaign against Iowa on Saturday night at 7 p.m.