Sophomore Jennifer Beltran led a solid defensive effort by the Illini with 22 digs in a sweep over Northwestern.
Nov. 23, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - In its quickest sweep of the season, No. 7 Illinois took care of Northwestern 3-0 (25-18, 25-22, 25-23) in an hour and 20 minutes on Wednesday night at Huff Hall. The Illini excelled on defense, holding NU to a .121 hitting percentage and boasting a pair of players, sophomore Jennifer Beltran (22) and senior Michelle Bartsch (20), with 20-plus digs for just the third time this season. Senior Colleen Ward turned in an all-around performance with her 17th double-double on the year, posting a team-high 13 kills to go along with 17 digs.
"My overall thought was that I really liked over defensive effort," head coach Kevin Hambly said. "It wasn't our best match, but I thought we played pretty well. Our defense was solid and worked really hard in the back row. They are one of the better serving teams and were able to get us out of system, but we handled that well."
The Illini moved to 26-4 overall, matching their most wins in a season since 1992 (32 wins) for the fourth time (2003, '08, '09), and to 9-1 in three-set matches on the year. They also kept pace for the runner-up spot in the Big Ten, as they improved to 15-4 in the conference and remained tied with No. 8 Purdue and No. 9 Penn State at that mark. The Boilermakers play at Wisconsin Friday night while PSU will end the season at Michigan State on Saturday.
Illinois used a balance offensive attack that hit .245 and featured six different players with five or more kills. Freshman Liz McMahon connected on 11 kills from the right side, Bartsch added nine from the left and junior Erin Johnson had seven from the middle. Redshirt freshman Anna Dorn hit .455 with five kills in 11 swings and no errors while junior setter Annie Luhrsen also finished with five kills and a .400 average.
"We are working really hard to get that offensive balance, but it is not where we want it to be yet," Hambly said. "If we continue to pass better, we will be able to spread it out more as we go forward."
The 70 digs by Illinois equaled its most in a three-set match this season, which also came against the Northwestern in Evanston. Beltran, who also had both of Illinois' aces, recorded the most digs by an Illini in a three set match this season while Luhrsen notched 43 assists, marking her most in a three setter. The Orange and Blue also held a 6-5.5 blocking advantage over the Wildcats.
The Illini will play their final Big Ten match of the regular season on Saturday night at 7 p.m. against Iowa at Huff Hal. All four seniors, Bartsch, Ward, Rachel Feldman and Hannah Deterding, will be recognized following the match as part of Senior Night. The NCAA selection show is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 27 on ESPNU.
"I don't know if anyone is working harder in the gym than us," Hambly said. "We are not letting up and are continuing to train through the Iowa match as we get ready for the NCAA Tournament."