Fighting Illini 6-0 in opening sets this season
WICHITA, Kan. – Seventh-ranked Illinois Volleyball opened the Shocker Classic with a three-set sweep over 21st-ranked Kentucky to climb to 5-1 on the 2015 season. The victory marks the second-straight win over an opponent ranked 21st in the weekly poll (Colorado). Kentucky is now 4-4 on the season.
“While this win didn’t feel as clean or as smooth as last weekend, we still got the win at 3-0 and we’ll live and learn,” shared head coach Kevin Hambly.
Although Illinois swept the Wildcats 3-0, at the beginning of the match it was anyone’s to take. No team ever led by more than two points through the entire first set. Illinois grabbed the lead for the first time at 5-4 in a set that saw five lead changes and 17 ties. The Illini went down 20-22 late in the opener but following a Hambly timeout fought back to make it 22-all thanks to a Wildcat service error followed by a Kate Stadick kill. After back-and-forth points between the sides, Michelle Strizak registered two consecutive kills to take the first set by a final of 26-24.
For the first time all season, Illinois faced a set point by the opposition in the opening frame, but picked up the tally thanks to veteran leadership to stay a perfect 6-0 in first sets.
Illinois opened up a quick 3-0 lead in the second set as Ali Bastianelli set the tone with a big kill to put the Orange and Blue on the board first. Kentucky battled back to for ties at 3-, 4- and 5-all, before jumping in front at 6-5. The Illini rallied for three quick points to go up 8-6, before opening up the biggest advantage of the match at 11-7 to force a Kentucky timeout. Illinois kept pushing forward to take a five-point lead at 16-11. Jocelynn Birks and Bastianelli combined for a block to give Illinois a seven-point advantage en route to a 25-19 second set win.
After Kentucky grabbed the first point on the final set, Illinois rattled off five-straight points, with Birks involved in the first four. The Orange and Blue climbed ahead to an 8-2 advantage but Kentucky battled back with five-straight points of their own to pull within one. The Wildcats hung around, trading points with Illinois through the middle of the set, before Hambly’s unit put it away with a final reading of 25-18.
The Fighting Illini picked up an ace from both Ali Stark and Brandi Donnelly. Stark now has five on the season to lead Illinois. Donnelly led the Illini with 12 digs defensively, and has now tallied 97 digs on the season. Freshman setter Jordyn Poulter recorded nine digs of her own to accompany 36 assists.
Hambly referenced Illinois’ blocking, serving and defense as key components in the victory over Kentucky.
Offensively, a trio of Illini recorded double-digit kills with Stadick and Strizak leading the way with 12 each. Birks tallied 10 kills of her own to go along with seven digs. With the slow start, Illinois hit just .024 as a unit in the first frame but followed it up with a mark of .146 in the second set and .250 in the third for a final reading of .130, the lowest number of the season thus far for the Illini.
Next up for Illinois is a double header featuring South Dakota State at 11 am followed by the closing contest of the Shocker Classic in Wichita State at 8 pm CT, tomorrow, Sept. 12.