Illini Clinch Postseason Eligibility With 3-1 Victory at Ohio State
Nov. 22, 2013
Columbus, Ohio - The Fighting Illini volleyball team took its hot streak on the road this evening, taking down Ohio State, 3-1 (25-20, 17-25, 25-21, 25-20), to capture its sixth straight win. Illinois is now 15-12 on the year, and with just three matches remaining in the regular season, the Orange and Blue are guaranteed at least a .500 record, securing eligibility for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Illini maintain their hold on fourth place in the Big Ten standings, sitting at 11-6 on the year. Ohio State's Big Ten woes continue, having dropped 11 of the last 13 matches after starting the season 14-0, as they fall to 16-13 (4-13 Big Ten).
"It was a win we needed to get," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "It makes us eligible for the tournament....It should mean we can stop worrying about that and be able to focus on getting ready for the NCAA Tournament. You never know, of course, but we're pretty confident about our place.
"I talked to the girls after the Iowa match and said, `we've got to win the next five matches,' and for them to take that goal on, it's a pretty big deal, especially with the teams that we've knocked off."
After putting up just three kills through the first two sets, sophomore Jocelynn Birks exploded for eight in the third to lead the team with 15 on the night, tying with junior Morganne Criswell, who also put up 15. Liz McMahon tallied 10 kills on the night, and middles Maddie Mayers and Anna Dorn had five and three, respectively. Libero Jennifer Beltran scored on a well-placed overpass for her second kill of the season, and Alexis Viliunas went 1-for-2 on the attack.
"We got to the middle early, and they were giving it up," said Hambly. "We attacked, attacked, attacked, and then they started taking it away, and so we went away, and it opened up Jocelynn. I thought Lex made some good decisions and put us in some situations where we could attack the space that they were leaving, setting up Morganne and Jocelynn....I thought Lex did a great job of running the offense."
"What I was really excited about was Beltran," Hambly remarked. "She was struggling at passing, but she worked her way through that. And that's hard to do on the fly, when you're the libero and you're not coming out, but she found a way."
Mayers captained the Illini block, stuffing six of Illinois' nine blocks, and Birks followed closely with five.
The Illini servers landed six aces on the night, led by serving specialist Courtney Abrahamovich with two.
For Ohio State, Kaitlyn Leary led the charge with 16 kills, hitting .324, followed by Erin Sekinger and Taylor Sandbothe with 13 apiece. Starting setter Taylor Sherwin put up 27 assists, while freshman Maggie Heim put up 23 assists through the middle of the match before Sherwin returned to the court midway through the fourth.
Libero Julianne Mandolfo was all over the court on defense, tallying 26 digs. Leary had a double-double with 16 digs, and Davionna DiSalvatore put up an additional 10. Sekinger and Andrea Kacsits led the Buckeyes at the net, with six blocks apiece to narrowly out-block the Illini, 11-9. In the serve game, Sekinger led the match with three aces, and Sherwin and Leary each had two.
"They run one combination and then another combination; you don't know what's coming at you," Hambly said of his opponent. "They also served great. They backed up and they were just ripping serves; it was a handful and it puts a lot of pressure on you."
Ohio State went up big early in the first set, as Taylor Sherwin served the Buckeyes to a 9-3 lead. However, Birks finally made the sideout with a kill, and Mayers then went back to serve, something she does not do often. The freshman middle led the Illini on a 5-0 run capped off by her first career service ace to pull within one, 10-9. A kill by Sekinger kept the Illini from tying it, but a McMahon kill made it 11-11 and Criswell gave the Illini the lead with a swing of her own. Illinois extended the lead to 19-15 off a Birks ace and a kill by Mayers, forcing an Ohio State timeout. The Buckeyes came back from the break with back-to-back blocks by Sekinger, but the Illini went right back ahead, and Criswell finished out the frame with a kill for a 25-20 Illinois win.
The Illini began the second set up 3-0, but Ohio State replied with a 6-0 run to go up 6-3. The Illini pulled back within one, 7-6, on a block by Birks and Mayers, but the Orange and Blue were unable to tie the score, as the Buckeyes ran away with the frame, 25-17, to tie the match at one set apiece.
Set three was a back and forth battle all the way through. Illinois took a 14-11 lead on a Birks-Mayers block, but Ohio State pushed right back ahead, 16-15. The Illini regained the lead, 17-16, on kills by Birks and Criswell, and this time it was theirs to keep, using a Dorn-Viliunas block to go up 20-17. OSU pulled back within two, 21-19, but a block by Mayers and McMahon sealed the deal at 25-21 in favor of the Illini.
Illinois jumped out to a 6-2 lead to start the fourth set with the help of a pair of Birks-Mayers blocks and never looked back. The Orange and Blue forged a 22-13 lead on an ace by Abrahamovich, and despite a late comeback from Ohio State, it was too little too late, as Illinois finished out the night with a 25-20 victory in the fourth to win the match 3-1.
"It was a little sloppy tonight, it wasn't that smooth, but that's because Ohio State makes you do that," said Hambly. "They're tough to play; they go fast. They're a hard team to play against, and I thought withstood their onslaught in the second. We lost that set, but it could have had a negative affect, and we recovered pretty well and worked through it. We were very calm (in the third set). I like how we recovered, it felt like Illinois volleyball."
The Illini have their work cut out for them tomorrow night when they head to University Park, Pa., to face No. 2 Penn State, who leads the Big Ten at 16-1 on the year. The Illini took the Nittany Lions to five on their home court back on Oct. 18 and will be looking to avenge the heartbreaking loss on Nov. 23 at Rec Hall. The match will begin at 6:30 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on WDWS 1400 AM.