Jessica Belter had 13 kills and 11 digs vs. Hawai'i in the NCAA Regional Semifinals.
Dec. 13, 2003
Honolulu, Hawaii -
The 15th-ranked Fighting Illini volleyball team saw its magical 2003 season come to a close tonight in Honolulu as Illinois fell to No. 2 Hawai'i in the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament in straight games by the score of 21-30, 22-30, 31-33. With the loss, Illinois' postseason run comes to a close in the Sweet Sixteen and the Illini finish the year with a record of 26-7, marking the UI's winningest season since 1992. Hawai'i, meanwhile, improves to 35-1 on the season and advances to Saturday night's regional final match vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech.
Illinois could not slow down Hawai'i's powerful offense, as the Rainbow Wahine hit .356 as a team for the match. Leading the way for Hawai'i was senior All-American Kim Willoughby, who registered a match-high 28 kills and hit an incredible .420 from the left side.
"We were very concerned with Willoughby coming into this match, and we were prepared to take some risks defensively to try and slow her down," Illinois head coach Don Hardin said. "But it didn't work out like we hoped. She played at another level above what we've seen from any opposing player this year."
Hawai'i's other left side hitter, Lily Kahumoku, also hit above .400 on the night, tallying 14 kills on .419 hitting. In a match that featured a number of long rallies and great defensive plays, Hawai'i outdug the Illini 61-42.
Despite dropping games one and two, Illinois remained competitive and showed its never-say-die attitude that was characteristic of this year's squad. Trailing 29-26, Illinois staved off three match points on a kill by Jessica Belter, a block by Melissa Vandrey and a kill by Vandrey to tie the game up at 29-all. A service error gave Hawai'i its fourth match point, but Belter and O'Bryan then connected on a block to tie it at 30-30. After another service error, Hawai'i had its fifth match point. This time it was Belter again on the kill to make it 31-all. But Kim Willoughby's 28th and final kill gave Hawai'i its sixth match point and finally the Rainbow Wahine were able to close out the match on a kill by Kahumoku.
Belter led the Illini with 13 kills on the evening, hitting a team-best .385. The junior right side hitter finished with a double-double, also leading the Orange and Blue with 11 digs and four blocks. Senior Shelly O'Bryan had 10 kills on .368 hitting while Rachel VanMeter also finished in double figures in kills with 10.
"We've had a great season, but we didn't want it to end tonight," Hardin said. "We came out here to win. But Hawai'i played excellent volleyball and earned the victory. They are the best team we've played all year. Once the disappointment of the loss goes away, everyone on our team can look back on this as a great season and be proud of what we've accomplished. It's been a great year."