Senior Michelle Bartsch hit .455 and led the Illini with 11 kills in the NCAA opening round victory.
Dec. 2, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Michelle Bartsch had a team-leading 11 kills, including seven in the third set to lift third-seeded and seventh-ranked Illinois to a straight sets 25-16, 25-22, 25-18 victory over Central Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night. The Illini out-blocked CMU 12-2 and advance to meet Marquette at 7 p.m. Saturday at Huff Hall. The Golden Eagles won a competitive four-set match over No. 24 Western Kentucky in the opener.
"I think for the first round of the tournament that it was a good start for us," Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said. "We continued to play at a high level throughout the match and we kept our errors down. We did a nice job of putting pressure on a very offensive and emotional team. They are a very good team and have been playing very well."
Illinois hit .360 for the match, including a .467 clip in the third set to pull away from a Central Michigan team that challenged the Illini in the second and third sets. The Illini had just two hitting errors in each set with just four of the six total errors unforced.
"I think I was just working hard to get low and over," Johnson said. "We wanted to seal the line and make sure we were getting over the net so that they couldn't get in a rhythm. The outsides have been working their tails off to get the slide blocking down and I thought we did a good job tonight. "
The Illini surged out to big leads in the first set. Johnson served five of the first six points, which included three aces as Illinois went in front 6-0. Colleen Ward added an ace of her own as the lead reached 10-2. It was 15-6 through the first service rotation. That as it turned out was the final margin of the set.
In set two, it was Central Michigan who jumped to the 6-0 lead. CMU used the arm of Kaitln Schultz, many coming on the back slide to battle the Illini to the end. Schultz had eight kills and hit .385 en route to a team-high 11 kills.
Illinois methodically worked its way back into it before finally tying the score at 10-10 on a big swing from Colleen Ward (9 kills). The set had five ties, but Illinois never relinquished the lead after that. It looked as if Illinois was finally pulling away, up 17-14, but Central Michigan came back to tie it at 20-20. The Illini scored five of the last seven points of the set to win it.
Bartsch was especially potent in the third set with seven kills in nine swings and finished hitting .455 on the night with just one hitting error. She scored in almost every way possible in that third set, tipping around the block, hitting through the block, hitting off the block and finding the open court. The senior had hit .667 with seven kills and a block in the frame. Although the Illini didn't shake the Chippewas until the end, they controlled the third set, hitting .467 and siding out at 89 percent (17 of 19).
"I think she and Annie really started connecting in that third set," Hambly said of Bartsch's play "They got a nice rhythm going and she was swinging high instead of bringing it down to the block which is something she's always working on."
Illinois plays another team in round two in Marquette, who is making its first NCAA appearance.
"They are a very offensive team and have a similar system to what we just saw in Central Michigan," Hambly said. "They are going to run a lot of double quicks and they set the ball really fast. They are a good team and the Big East is a good conference. We need to bring our best game or we are going to be in trouble tomorrow.
"Our whole season we have been grinding for this moment and it is time to step up and play our best," Hambly added. "There is a different level of focus on our team right now. You can see it in the way they are walking around in the gym and the way they stepped on the floor. It's time. It's do or die and for the seniors especially. "