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Illini volleyball sweeps Morehead St. in NCAA opener

Illini win 25-22, 25-21, 25-16
Champaign, Ill.  (UI Release) – After earning a #13 seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Illinois was able to start its road to Seattle at home with a first round matchup in Champaign. With two close sets to start off the match against Morehead State, the Illini pulled away in the third set, 25-16, to come out with the 3-0 match win against the Eagles and advance to the second round. The Fighting Illini improve to 25-3 all-time at home in the tournament, sitting at 17-14 in 2013. Morehead State ends its season with a 27-8 final record.
“It’s just good to get the win,” Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said. “If it comes in three, four, five, it doesn’t really matter. I think for us it’s just good to continue to advance. We’ll take a win against these guys, they’re tough.”
Illinois' first round matchup featured an unfamiliar foe, as the Illini took on Morehead State for the first time in program history. The Orange and Blue are 28-6 all-time against current members of the Ohio Valley Conference, with the majority of those matches coming against in-state foe Eastern Illinois (19-4). The last time Illinois faced an OVC member was in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, when the Illini took down Austin Peay in three consecutive 25-19 sets.
The Illini and Morehead State got the match off to an even start in the first set, but Illinois snuck out ahead to take the frame from the Eagles, 25-22.
“I thought it was a really good environment in the gym,” Hambly said. “I thought [Morehead State] competed on a really high level and really put a lot of pressure on us. I do think that we were a little bit anxious and we rushed things early, and it took us a while to settle in. Once we settled in we played a whole lot better.”
The second set was nearly as close as the first, but Illinois found its rhythm to finish the set, 25-21.
In the NCAA Tournament, on any give night a team can face a standout or a Cinderella team, but it doesn’t change how to prepare for a match or the need to come out ready. The Illini knew that going in, but were still impressed with Morehead State.
“Every team in the tournament, like [Coach] said, they’re used to winning,” libero Jennifer Beltran said. “So we expect every team to come out there with that mentality that they’re going to win. It’s something we definitely talked about prior to the match, and the whole week, because it’s something that we have to remind ourselves. That’s why the tournament isn’t easy and anything can happen, because any team can come out and have a night, and that’s why we have to come out prepared.”
“We’ll have to play better tomorrow against Marquette, there’s no question about that,” Hambly said. “They looked really good, and we’re going to have to execute at a high level.”
For their second round matchup, the Illini will have the chance to face a team that they played in the last two seasons, the Marquette Golden Eagles. Illinois is 3-0 all-time against Marquette, all of which were 3-0 sweeps. Illinois defeated the Golden Eagles in the last NCAA Tournament match at Huff Hall on Dec. 3, 2011, earning a 3-0 sweep in the Second Round on the way to the NCAA title match.
“I thought we were a little shaky to start,” Coach Hambly said. “I thought we were anxious. A lot of these guys it’s their first time playing in the tournament, only three of them have played in it before and it looked that way. It looked like a team that was pressing too hard and trying to score fast. I thought about halfway through the second set, just before the break, we started to kind of relax and settle in and play our volleyball.”
Illinois might not have been able to get by the Morehead State Eagles without outside hitter Jocelynn Birks. Birks kept Morehead State’s Alex Fitzmorris at bay to fend off the Eagle’s charge in the third set, as Illinois pulled away 25-16 to take the 3-0 match win.
“[Jocelynn] did awesome,” Beltran said. “She’s been great for us, she just hits over the block and she’s been hitting some really great shots and playing awesome defense.”
The tournament atmosphere has proved helpful to hosting at Huff and the Illini will try to keep that momentum and crowd involvement going into their match tomorrow against a talented Marquette squad.
“We definitely wanted to play here,” Birks said. “Not only because of it being [some of] our last game here, but Huff is just such a great place to play and we knew that having all of our fans here to support us would just give us even more of the advantage.”
“It was an interesting environment,” Hambly said. “It was loud and it was hectic, it just seemed like a lot of chaos tonight in the crowd which is really interesting. It was a different vibe than we typically get because both sides were cheering. I thought it was really cool. It’s what the NCAA [Tournament] should be. It didn’t feel exactly like Huff, it felt like an NCAA match, which was fun.” 
Stat Leaders:
Kills: Jocelynn Birks (16), Liz McMahon (10)

Assists: Alexis Viliunas (32)

Hitting Percentage: Anna Dorn (.500), Liz McMahon (.400), Jocelynn Birks (.308)

Digs: Jennifer Beltran (14), Jocelynn Birks (12), Alexis Viliunas (8)

Blocks: Maddie Mayers (4), Anna Dorn (3), Liz McMahon (3)
Record Watch:
- Jennifer Beltran’s 14 digs increased her career total to 2,193. She moved past Wisconsin’s Jocelyn Wack ’07 to sit in third place all-time in Big Ten history and is just one dig behind Northwestern’s Kate Nobilio ’09. She has 499 on the season, good for seventh in the Illinois record books.

- Anna Dorn moved into a tie with Vicki Brown ’07 for 13th in career blocks with 390.

- Jocelynn Birks passed her 2012 mark of 1,458 attack attempts to sit in sixth all-time at Illinois with 1,490 swings in 2013.
Worth Noting:
- Jocelynn Birks registered her 23rd career double-double and her 11th of the season with 16 kills and 12 digs.

- Illinois’ second round matchup is identical to the Orange and Blue’s last second round matchup, as the Illini also hosted Marquette in the 2011 NCAA Second Round.
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