Senior Night Victory for #7 Illini over Iowa
Nov. 26, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois' offense rolled in the first set against Iowa on Senior Night and the 2011 regular season finale. From there the Illini had to fight off a quick attack from the Hawkeyes and grind their way to a 25-16, 25-22, 18-25, 25-20 victory. Illinois ends the season at 27-4, marking the most wins for the program since 1992. The Illini finish tied for second in the Big Ten for third straight season with a 16-4 mark, just one match behind conference champion Nebraska.
After the match, the team honored its four seniors, Colleen Ward, Michelle Bartsch, Rachel Feldman and Hannah Deterding, who have been instrumental in building the national reputation. For head coach Kevin Hambly the time for reflection will be reserved for another time.
"We will celebrate the seniors at the end of the year," Hambly said. "I want to coach them a lot longer. They are all incredible people and a lot of fun to coach. I am going to miss them when it's over but right now all I am thinking about is coaching them as long as I can."
That will likely come at Huff Hall next week where Illinois is expected to host first and second round NCAA Tournament matches. The selection show is slated for ESPNU Sunday at 5 p.m. The Illini entered the week No. 1 in the RPI and seventh in the AVCA Coaches poll.
The senior outside hitters led the Illinois offense that hit .407 on the night. Michelle Bartsch hit a season best .425 with 19 kills and fellow senior Colleen Ward was close behind at .385 with 17 kills.
The Illini were untouchable in the first set, hitting .607 with 17 kills and no errors while siding out at a scintillating 94 percent. Bartsch and Ward each had six kills in the set.
From there it was a struggle. The offense, though not at the same rate as set one, was still strong, but the Hawkeyes (11-22, 1-19) picked up the pace jumping to venerable leads in each of the next three sets.
"The first set we played pretty well and we hit around .600," noted Hambly. "The problem is that we relied on that and relaxed on defense. Iowa is pesky and a good team. We didn't respect them the way we needed to after the first set. They brought it to the end and that's why we love this conference."
Iowa was in position to take set two, leading 22-19 before the Illini scored the final six points to pull it out. Sophomore Jennifer Beltran served the final five points. The Illini dug themselves too big of a hole in the third set as Iowa hit .531 to win it going away.
Set four was nip and tuck all the way with eight ties and three lead changes. Again, the Hawkeyes used a balanced scoring attack to take leads of 14-10 and 16-14. The Illini showed some fire and determination in overcoming that deficit, using back-to-back kills from Ward and Anna Dorn to go in front for good at 19-17. The Illini finished the match on an 11-3 run to finish 14-1 at Huff Hall this season.
Erin Johnson was effective on the slide most of the night en route to a 10-kill, .600 attack percentage performance while freshman Liz McMahon was steady, hitting .364 with 13 kills. Junior Annie Luhrsen's sets led to kills 47 percent of the time with the Wheaton, Ill., native finishing with 53 assists.
After the match, the talk was all about the imminent NCAA Tournament, where the Illini have goals beyond the Sweet 16 they have achieved three straight seasons.
"We definitely can't play how we did today," Ward said. "Everyone is going to be fighting for their lives in the tournament. I am not worried at all because we have a week to prepare, but the tournament is a whole different mindset."
"We looked at this game tonight as our first round game," Hambly said. "We made more adjustments tonight than we have in a long time because we haven't seen them before. We were sloppy a little bit tonight but we played hard."