Illinois volleyball beats Northwestern for second time this year

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Illinois volleyball beats Northwestern for second time this year

Illinois' Brandi Donnelly serves the ball during the game against Nebraska on Sept. 16.  The Illini lost 0-3.

Illinois' Brandi Donnelly serves the ball during the game against Nebraska on Sept. 16. The Illini lost 0-3.

Illinois' Brandi Donnelly serves the ball during the game against Nebraska on Sept. 16. The Illini lost 0-3.

Illinois' Brandi Donnelly serves the ball during the game against Nebraska on Sept. 16. The Illini lost 0-3.

By James Boyd, Staff writer

Whenever the Illinois volleyball reaches match point at home, the crowd inside Huff Hall rises to its feet and becomes dead silent. Once the Illini score their final point of the set, the crowd breaks its silence with a thunderous roar.

On Saturday, the crowd did that three times as Illinois defeated Northwestern in straight sets (25-11, 25-15, 25-22). It was the Illini’s second victory over the Wildcats this season, but head coach Kevin Hambly wasn’t satisfied with his team’s performance.

“I think there’s some things offensively that we did that I wasn’t really happy with, (like the) choices we made, the attacks that we made and the impatience that we played (with) offensively too,” Hambly said. “There’s going to be teams that dig balls. The league is a good defensive league.”

Hambly added that he believed his team relaxed after a relatively easy first set, and because of that, the Illini’s intensity dwindled down in the sets that followed. Northwestern gifted several points to Illinois — committing eight errors in the opening set alone.

The Illini won the first set 25-11 behind four kills and four block assists from sophomore Ali Bastianelli and seven assists from sophomore Jordyn Poulter. But the team had to hold on for a 25-22 victory in the final set.

Poulter recorded 10 assists in the second set and 12 assists in the third. But the Illini’s hitting percentage decreased significantly from .306 in the first set to 0.089 in the third. 

“I feel like we took more out of the loss to (No. 1) Wisconsin than we did this game,” Poulter said. “We go into every game trying to get better, and this game, we just kind of stayed at where we were and didn’t make the stride or the push.”

Hambly said the team’s defense was commendable. Northwestern’s outside hitter, junior Symone Abbott, only managed seven kills on 44 total attempts. Her 0.045 hitting percentage was her fourth-worst this year.

“We didn’t really do anything different against Abbott,” Hambly said. “(The Wildcats) set the ball high enough that we could kind of do our base stuff and defend. And we’re lucky (Junior Brandi Donnelly) is a really good libero, and she can dig that hard cross so we could take everything away (from) Abbott.”

Donnelly amassed 24 digs on the evening and helped the Illini hold the Wildcats to a -.008 hit percentage — the team’s lowest mark of the season.

Illinois handed Northwestern its ninth consecutive loss this season and kept the Wildcats winless in the Big Ten. Hambly said that his squad had a bit of a letdown from their upset victory against Michigan State earlier in the week but that he wasn’t worried about his team going forward.

Illinois recorded 67 digs against Northwestern — the team’s best total in any straight-sets win this season.

“I thought we had a really good defensive game,” Donnelly said. “(Our blocking) had a great set up, and any ball that we didn’t shut down, we dug.”

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