Women's Volleyball
Explosive Outsides Lead Illini to 3-2 Victory in Evanston

Liz McMahon registered the first 30-kill match since 2008.
Liz McMahon registered the first 30-kill match since 2008.

Nov. 21, 2012

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Evanston, Ill. - Outside hitters Jocelynn Birks and Liz McMahon combined for 58 kills tonight to lead the Illini volleyball team past Northwestern, 3-2, in Evanston. NU took the first set, 25-20, before dropping the next two, 25-22. The Wildcats settled the score with a 25-20 fourth, but the Orange and Blue came out on top, 15-12, in the fifth to sweep the season series with Northwestern. With the win, the Illini improve to 13-16 (7-12 Big Ten), while the Wildcats drop to 16-14 (5-14 Big Ten).

The Illini found themselves in their 13th five-set match this evening, extending the school record from what had been 11 set in 2000. Of those 13, 10 of them were in Big Ten play, also a school record. With tonight's win, the Illini improve to 5-8 in five-setters and 4-6 in Big Ten five-set matches.

"I'm excited for the group, because they fight so hard, and they've had so many opportunities in fifth sets," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "They were poised and they were calm; they were ready and I feel like they were loose the whole time. I felt like they were going to win, but I've felt that way before and they haven't, so I'm happy for them. They look relieved. To pull that out when it's close, it's gratifying. We need to send the seniors off with a few wins here."

Liz McMahon led the match with 30 kills tonight, including a monstrous 10 in the third set alone, to mark the first 30-kill match by the Illini since Laura DeBruler struck 31 kills in a 3-2 victory over Oregon on Aug. 30, 2008. Jocelynn Birks also strung together a career-high 28 kills tonight, increasing her season total to 491. She will look to become the 13th member of the 500 kill club on Saturday, already ranking second all-time among freshmen, trailing only DeBruler's 2007 rookie season (577).

McMahon hit .415 in the match and added five digs and two blocks, while Birks registered 13 digs, claiming her 13th double-double, four blocks, two assists and an ace. Tonight marks the 11th time this season the Birks has earned 20-or-more kills, ranking sixth all-time in season 20-kill matches and already tying for 10th in career 20-kill matches as just a freshman.

"They were both great," said Hambly of his left sides. "They carried the load for us. We relied on the lefts a lot, I mean they couldn't touch McMahon. And then, I thought some balls that Jocelynn hit were just ridiculous, just the shots that she had. They both can be very special players, and we're lucky they're on our team. Northwestern didn't have an answer for Liz. I hope she continues to develop that way."

Erin Johnson registered six kills and six blocks in the match, moving into third place all-time with 444 career block assists, and tying for seventh all-time with 137 BA this season. Annie Luhrsen had a season-best 64 assists to go along with nine digs and three blocks, and Julia Conard snagged 16 digs. Jennifer Beltran registered a match-high 24 digs, moving past Northwestern's Christie Gardner `05 into 13th all-time in the Big Ten with 1,679 career digs. Additionally, she jumped up two spots on the season list into seventh at Illinois with 485; Beltran set the top two single-season marks in the past two seasons.

Northwestern's Stephanie Holthus led the Wildcats with 26 kills, adding eight digs and three blocks, and Katie Dutchman tallied 17 kills, three aces, three digs and four block assists. Setter Madalyn Shalter put up 57 assists, and libero Julie Chin dug 22 balls. Savanahh Paffen stuffed a match-leading seven blocks to lead the Wildcats to edge UI, 12-10, in team blocks.

The Wildcats opened the match with back-to-back kills from Stephanie Holthus. Birks made it 2-1 with the first Illini kill of the night, but a kill by Katie Dutchman lifted the Wildcats back up, 3-1. Northwestern extended its lead to 6-3, but the Illini used a 4-0 run to take an 8-7 on three straight kills by McMahon. Dutchman tied it with a kill, but the Wildcats were unable to return a Birks attack to put Illinois back up 9-8. The Wildcats regained the lead 11-10 on a ball-handling error by Luhrsen, but a Birks kill put Illinois on top. 13-11. The Illini continued to lead until an error by McMahon made it 16-15, Wildcats. McMahon made up for it on the next play with a kill, but an Akanbi kill kept Northwestern ahead, 17-16. McMahon courted another kill to tie it at 17, but kills by Dutchman and Crippen finally gave Northwestern a two-point lead, and a strong serving rotation by Dutchman got NU to set point, 24-18. The Illini combatted two set points, but Holthus had the final word, giving the Wildcats a 25-20 first-set win. Liz McMahon led the Illini with seven kills in the set, hitting .600 in 10 swings.

Birks gave the Illini a quick 4-1 lead in the second set, slamming the first three kills of the set. A pair of kills by Holthus helped Northwestern tie the score, 4-4, and the score remained knotted, up to 8-8. Akanbi gave NU a 9-8 lead, but a 6-0 run served out by Beltran put Illinois up 14-9. After UI led 18-14, NU put together a comeback, pulling within one, 19-18, but a Birks kill kept Illinois on top, 20-18. However, a kill and an ace by Dutchman tied the score for the first time since it was 9-9, knotted at 20. Birks put UI back up 21-20 with her ninth kill of the set, but a service error tied it at 21. Luhrsen smashed a second contact to make it 22-21, and a Holthus error put UI up 23-21. A Paffen-Holthus block pulled NU within one, but back-to-back kills by McMahon sealed the deal on a 25-22 Illini victory. Birks hit .320 in the set with nine kills and just one error.

Northwestern took the first real lead in the third set, jumping out 8-5 early. The Illini bounced back to tie it at 10, then took a 14-12 lead, before Northwestern tied it back at 14. After trailing 19-18, Birks tied the score at 19 with her 19th kill of the night. Kills by Holthus and Cripped put NU up 21-19, but following an Illini timeout, the Orange and blue came back to win six of the final seven points on three kills from McMahon to take the third frame by a score of 25-22. McMahon had a monster 10 kills in the set to reach 20 for the fourth time this season.

It was all Northwestern in the fourth set, as the Wildcats jumped out to a 6-2 lead and never surrendered. A kill by Jendryk pulled Illinois within two, 7-5, but the Wildcats pushed right back ahead, 13-8. Back-to-back blocks by Johnson made it 13-11, but the Illini could not get any closer, as NU went right back up 15-11. The Illini mad a late surge to come within three, 22-19, but Holthus nailed the final two kills to win the frame, 25-20, and send the match to the fifth. Illinois hit a match-high .312 in the set, but a .455 clip by NU led to the win.

The Illini jumped out to a 3-1 lead early in the fifth set on a kill and a block by Johnson. Northwestern made it 5-4 on a kill from Paffen, but McMahon put Illinois up 7-4 with another kill. The Wildcats pulled within one again, 7-6, but a kill by Jendryk stopped the tie and soon the Illini led 9-6. Northwestern would not yield, winning four of the next five, as Dutchman snuck the ball over the net to score an ace and tie the set at 10. Birks put Illinois up 11-10, but Paffen tied it at 11. Birks nailed another kill, her personal-best 28th, but a Paffen-Shalter block knotted the score at 12. McMahon slammed back-to-back kills, hitting her 30th of the night, to make it Illini set point, and an error by Paffen finished out the match with a 15-12 Illini victory. Birks and McMahon each had four kills in the set as the Illini defense held NU to just a .040 hitting percentage.

The Illini conclude the 2012 season on Saturday with a trip to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes. Illinois has not played Iowa yet this season, as the Hawkeyes sit in last place in the Big Ten with a 10-22 (2-17 Big Ten) record. The match is slated to start at 7 p.m. and will be aired on Mediacom television in Iowa as well as streamed on Hawkeyes All-Access.