Champaign, Ill. - The Fighting Illini earned their first conference victory of the season this afternoon, outlasting the University of Wisconsin, 3-2 (25-23, 23-25, 25-22, 22-25, 15-9) for their ninth-straight win over the Badgers. Illinois' balanced attack and scrappy back row defense made the difference, improving the Illini's record to 7-5 (1-1 Big Ten), while Wisconsin takes just its second loss of the year to sit at 13-2 (1-1 Big Ten).
"It's good for us," said redshirt senior Annie Luhrsen. "A lot of coaches will talk about how you don't want to string two losses in a row, and it was good for us not to do that. We want to keep that momentum going this week in practice and into next weekend."
Jocelynn Birks earned her fourth double-double of the season with a team-leading 20 kills to go along with 11 digs, and Liz McMahon recorded aseason-high 19 kills and added four blocks. Anna Dorn hit over .400 for the eighth-straight match, recording 13 kills in 23 swings for a .478 clip, and Erin Johnson went a flawless 7-for-10 to hit a match-high .700 with four block assists.
Ali Stark had a strong all-around performance, sitting a kill shy of a double-double with 11 digs and nine kills, and Jennifer Beltran led a powerful back row with 27 digs. Annie Luhrsen also recorded a double-double, with a season-high 60 assists and 12 digs to go with her five kills, and Jackie Wolfe added an additional eight digs.
"We're starting to spread our offense out a bit more and play some defense," said Head Coach Kevin Hambly. "We had three times the number of digs we had against Minnesota. I think things are going in a gooddirection, but I still feel like we have a long ways to go."
The Badgers opened the first set up 8-3, allowing just one kill in the first 11 plays. The Illini won three of the next four (9-6), but the Badgers followed with a 7-4 run to make it 16-10. Liz McMahon reversed the momentum with three straight kills for the Illini (16-13), and back-to-back kills by Ali Stark tied the score at 19. Wisconsin's Ellen Chapman scored the next two, including finishing off a marathon rally that seemed like it would never end, and an ace by Courtney Thomas put Wisconsin right back out in front, 22-19. However, the Illini would not back down, as Erin Johnson dunked over a kill to stop the run. A Wisconsin attack error led to a Badgers timeout, and Birks then hit back-to-back kills to put Illinois on top for the first time in the match, 23-22. Annie Luhrsen faked the set and smashed the kill to reach set point, and after Crystal Graff kept the Badgers alive, Birks finished it off with a kill to take the first set by a score of 25-23.
Wisconsin got off to another quick lead in the second set, up 10-4. The Illini fought their way back in it, coming within two, 16-14, but the Badgers forced their way right back up, 20-15. Wisconsin soon reached set point, 24-20. A service error by Deme Morales put the ball in Jennifer Beltran's hands, and the Illini picked up the next two points on a Badger error and a sneaky overpass by Luhrsen to make it 24-23. On the ensuing play, Beltran made a great dig save, and Johnson flipped up a quick set, but Luhrsen faltered on the overpass attempt, as the ball went into the net to even the match at one set apice with a Badgers 25-23 win.
The third set featured seven ties and three lead changes. After an early 6-6 tie, the Badgers took an 11-9 lead. A kill by Birks started a 5-0 run for the Illini, capped off by two dazzling serves from Luhrsen, to give theIllini a 14-11 advantage. The Badgers came back to tie it at 14, but a kill by McMahon made it 15-14 Illini. A Chapman kill tied the score at 15 and a block by Ording and Thomas gave the Badgers back the lead, but another McMahon kill followed by a service ace by Beltran made it 17-16 in favor of the Illini. McMahon hit an error to tie the score, but smashed a kill on the next turn to take back the lead, 18-17. After Chapman tied it again, Ali Stark sparked athree-point Illinois run to go ahead 21-18. Wisconsin stayed in it, but twoDorn kills put the finishing touches on the set to win it for the Illini, 25-22.
The Orange and Blue started strong in the fourth set, opening with an 8-5 lead. The Illini continued tostay on top behind a 6-kill performance by McMahon, and soon led 15-10. However, the Badgers forced their way back in behind a service run from Caroline Workman to tie the score at 15. The Illini pushed back ahead 20-17, and then 22-20, but Wisconsin won the final five points, on kills from Mikaelsen and Mitchell and a closing block from the pair to come back and win it, 25-22.
Illinois turned it intooverdrive in the fifth set, putting up an early 9-5 advantage behind a trio of kills from Anna Dorn. A kill by McMahon gave the Illini match point, up 14-8, and a McMahon-Dorn block closed out the match with a fifth-set score of 15-9.
"We started every set slow and that hurt our momentum, so we were fighting back every single time," Luhrsen said. "But in the fifth set we finally came out and just attacked them from every aspect of the game, from the service line, from attacking, from defense, and I think that helped our attackers especially."
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