Women's Volleyball
Illini Deal Marquette 3-1 Loss in NCAA Second Round

Senior libero Jennifer Beltran will retire at the end of this season in second place all-time in the Big Ten in career digs.
Senior libero Jennifer Beltran will retire at the end of this season in second place all-time in the Big Ten in career digs.

Dec. 7, 2013

By Lexi Shurilla, fightingillini.com staff writer

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Champaign, Ill. - Illinois got off to a slow start in its NCAA Second Round match against No. 22 Marquette, with the Golden Eagles bringing their A-game from Milwaukee and the MU fan cheers filling Huff Hall. But Illinois quickly converted the Huff energy into their own and snatched the victory out of the Golden Eagles' talons. Sophomore Jocelynn Birks finished with 19 kills and junior Liz McMahon ended with 17 to send the Illini (18-14) soaring on to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament with a 3-1 win over BIG EAST Champion Marquette (26-6).

"I thought we played really steady offensive volleyball, and I thought we played really good defense against a really tough offensive team," Illinois Head Coach Kevin Hambly said. "We've been cleaner offensively, but it was good. I thought defensively we made some great adjustments and we defended them really well. You don't hold that team to zero [in hitting percentage], they're a really efficient team and we almost held them to zero in the last two sets. It's not an easy task what [the girls] did against a very, very good offensive team.

"I thought overall we performed really well in the last three sets, as good as maybe we have in a while."

"We're totally different [from the 2011 team], but it is cool to be back in the Sweet Sixteen," McMahon said about making it to the third round of the Tournament for the second time in three years. "It's an unbelievable feeling. The atmosphere in the tournament is so different than anything else. I'm just proud of the way we competed tonight."

The Golden Eagles' quick play, massive blocks and saves helped give Marquette the advantage in the first set of the night. While MU maintained control throughout the first set, Illinois' McMahon helped get the Illini offense rolling near the end of the first set, pulling the Orange and Blue to within 21-19 and finishing with six kills in the first. But Marquette's tough defense continued to upset the Illini and the Golden Eagles took the first set, 25-19.

"Their offense is a little bit fast and it takes a while to adjust," Hambly said. "I think our eyes and our defense, how they're going to hit against us. I felt like it took a while for us to get in that mode, and then once we did, we were somewhat in control defensively. Where we felt like we had a good grasp of what they were doing offensively."

"I also think we were a little anxious in that first set, but then we slowed it down and played Illinois volleyball," freshman Katie Stadick said.

After having a standout performance for the Illini in their win over Morehead State the previous night, Jocelynn Birks had a slow start, with just two kills and three errors in the first set, but Birks and Illinois rallied and came out firing in the second as the Illini started raining aces to keep the lead in the second set.

Illinois' Ali Stark tacked on the first ace of the second set for the Illini and Birks followed suit on her next serves with two aces of her own. Illinois pulled out in front of Marquette 15-8, then 17-9, as it kept the momentum and stretched out the lead to 25-17 to take the second set for the Illini, tying the match up 1-1. Illinois' sideout percentage shot up to 83 percent (15-18) in the second set after posting just 56 percent in the first. Meanwhile, Marquette's flip-flopped from 75 to 58 percent for the second set. McMahon continued dropping the hammer on the Golden Eagles adding another six kills to rack up 12 kills through two sets of play.

By the start of the third set, Huff was booming and Illinois was raring to go and took a quick 14-7 lead on Marquette. Birks' game sparked in the third set as she caught fire and added seven kills to shoot Illinois out to a 20-9 lead over the Golden Eagles. With a .429 hitting percentage in the third, Illinois easily claimed the set 25-13, and the lead in the match, 2-1.

"I think it proved to us and everyone else that we're tough," McMahon said. "It was really cool to see us take our fate into our own hands and do something about it. Just continuing to be confident, we never lost that. We had this vision and we're not stopping until we can get there."

"To me, tough is having your backs against the wall and then you fight to execute and you find a way to do that," Hambly said. "You find a way to pick yourself up and make sure you continue to compete and I think this team has done that a lot this year."

It was Anna Dorn's turn to step up in the fourth set, as she nailed four kills to close out the match. Sharing the ball throughout the last set, the Illini sealed the deal with the 25-13 fourth set victory, and the 3-1 match win to move on to the NCAA Regional next weekend just down the road at State Farm Center in Champaign.

The Illini will host unseeded No. 19 Purdue, who knocked off fourth-seed Missouri tonight, in a Regional Semifinal, while No. 13 Wisconsin (12th seed) will take on unseeded No. 16 Florida State, who upset fifth-seed Florida, in the other Regional Semifinal, both on Friday, Dec. 13, at State Farm Center. The winners of each match will have a chance at a trip to Seattle in the Regional Final on Saturday, Dec. 14. Tickets are on sale now at: http://bit.ly/ILL-VolleyTix-13.

Stat Leaders:
Kills: Birks (19), McMahon (17), Dorn (8), Criswell (8)
Assists: Viliunas (48)
Hitting Percentage: Dorn (.571), Stadick (.429), McMahon (.409)
Aces: Birks (3), Beltran (2)
Digs: Beltran (19), Davis (13), Birks (8)
Blocks: Dorn (6), Stadick (5), McMahon (5)
Points: Birks (24.0), McMahon (19.5)

Notable Team Comparisons:
Hitting Percentage: Illinois out-hit Marquette .319 to .163
Blocks: Illinois led 13.0-7.0
Aces: Illinois tied its season high, leading 8-2 in aces
Kills: Illinois led 59-44

Record Watch:
- With her second dig of the night, Jennifer Beltran moved into second place all-time in Big Ten history in career digs. She finished the night with 2,212, passing Northwestern's Kate Nobilio '09. Only Minnesota's Paula Gentil '05 has recorded more (2,791).

- Additionally, Beltran now has 518 digs on the year, passing her total from 2012 into sixth place at Illinois. She has recorded four of the top seven single-season marks in school history.

- Anna Dorn passed Disa Johnson '87 to move into 12th place in career blocks with 396