Head Coach Don Hardin and the Fighting Illini Volleyball Team is headed to Hawaii for the Sweet Sixteen after defeating Louisville 3-0 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday night at Huff Hall.
Dec. 6, 2003
Champaign, Ill. -
Illinois is headed to Hawaii for the Sweet Sixteen after defeating Louisville tonight in straight games in the second round of the 2003 NCAA Volleyball Tournament. The 15th-seeded Illini won by the score of 30-26, 30-26, 32-30 in front of 1,514 fans at Huff Hall. Louisville's season ends with a 25-6 record while Illinois improves to 26-6 on the season, its winningest season since going 32-4 in 1992. The Illini are also advancing to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1998.
While the Illini won in straight games, each game was tightly contested and went down to the wire. Game one featured a tie at 24-all before the Illini went on a three-point run and then held off Louisville for the four-point victory. Illinois had a seemingly comfortable six point lead at 26-20 in game two, but it was cut in half late before the Illini ended the Cardinals' comeback bid with a kill by Melissa Vandrey for another four-point win.
Game three was a classic back-and-forth affair, featuring 11 ties and five lead changes. Three was plenty of drama up until the end. Illinois was serving for match point with a 29-27 lead, but Louisville scored three straight points on a blocking error by Shelly O'Bryan, a service ace and an attack error by Rachel VanMeter. The Cardinals were then serving for game-point ahead 30-29, but the Illini tied it at 30-all on a kill by O'Bryan. The Illini then pulled ahead 31-30 after a Louisville hitting error, and with Erin Virtue serving for the match, senior Melissa Vandrey pounded home a kill to give the Illini a 32-30 victory and set off a raucous celebration in Huff Hall.
"I'm happy with the way fought through," junior setter Erin Virtue said. "All the games were really tight, especially that third game. That's characteristic of our team, we aren't ones to give up. We just kept fighting through. We've had tons of games come down to the last two points and that's just our character, we're fighters."
Illinois held a 60-47 advantage in kills over Louisville and outhit the Cardinals .281-to-.209. While Louisville had twice as many aces as Illinois (8-4), the Illini outblocked the Cardinals 9-6. Melissa Vandrey had a match-high 16 kills, one of four Illini players to reach double figures. Sophomore Rachel VanMeter tallied 13 kills while Jessica Belter and Shelly O'Bryan added 10 each. O'Bryan hit .421 on the evening with four blocks, while Belter hit .400 and contributed eight digs. Virtue, who performed brilliantly throughout the weekend, finished with 50 assists, six digs, three blocks and three kills.
"I feel good about the fact that we are peaking at the right time of year," Head Coach Don Hardin said. "Physically and emotionally we've done a lot of work to ensure that we'd be playing our best volleyball come NCAA Tournament time, and we showed that this weekend. I'm proud of the way this team has performed. They are so much fun to coach and the best thing about going to the Sweet Sixteen is that I get the pleasure of being with them and coaching them for another week. They're a special group."
Next up, Illinois will travel to Honolulu to take on No. 2 Hawaii (34-1) in the NCAA Regional Semifinals Friday, Dec. 12.