Illini volleyball defeats Buckeyes

Junior middle blocker Vicki Brown spikes the ball past Ohio State players during the third game in a three game sweep at Huff Hall Friday. John Paul Goguen, The Daily Illini

Junior middle blocker Vicki Brown spikes the ball past Ohio State players during the third game in a three game sweep at Huff Hall Friday. John Paul Goguen, The Daily Illini

By Lucas Deal

In by far their most complete home match of the season, the Illinois volleyball team destroyed 16th ranked Ohio State 30-20, 30-24 and 30-21 on Friday at Huff Hall. The Illini used a stellar blocking effort by Meghan MacDonald and an offensive outburst by Kayani Turner to cruise to the win.

“That’s the type of match we’ve been capable of playing all year, and we finally clicked tonight,” said Turner, who had a match-high 19 kills and hit .459 for the contest. “We’ve been playing like that in practice all season and tonight it finally carried over to the court. Something clicked, I don’t know what exactly, but something definitely changed.”

Friday’s win was especially relieving for head coach Don Hardin, who had watched his team struggle mightily only one week ago at Michigan State and Michigan.

“After last weekend, as poor as we played, this is a big bounce-back win for us,” he said. “We were so complacent at Michigan, this was a huge difference.”

The match started out competitive, but a 10-0 Illinois run late in the first game seemed to rattle the Buckeyes (13-5, 3-5 in Big Ten). The Illini quickly took advantage.

“Our blocking in that first game really forced Ohio State out of their game,” Hardin said. “Our girls played with a mentality that told Ohio State that they weren’t going to lose this match.”

The Illini trailed only twice – 2-1 in game two and 1-0 in game three – for the remainder of the match.

“We were so determined,” said MacDonald, whose nine block assists set a career-high. “We know what we have, we know what we are capable of and we wanted to show everyone.”

The win was Illinois’ first over a nationally ranked opponent this season, and Hardin said he hopes his team is able to pull off a few more upsets to give them a shot at the NCAA tournament.

“This is a big win for us, but we’ll need to have a few other wins like this for us to have a chance,” Hardin said. “Even if we beat all the teams we’re supposed to beat, we still have to play ranked teams tough.”

The Illini did just that on Sunday, as they forced the No. 2 team in the country, Penn State, in a dogfight before falling 34-32, 30-23, 32-30.

With Turner out of action with a leg injury, the shorthanded Illini jumped out on top against the Nittany Lions. Penn State didn’t grab its first lead until 14-13, but led 24-21 before the Illini mounted a late rally. Illinois forced game point twice in game one – once at 29-28 and another at 32-31 – but couldn’t hold on.

Penn State dominated game two to take a commanding lead, but the Illini wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Freshman Kylie McCulley, filling in for the injured Turner, had nine kills in game three as the Illini once again forced game point at 30-29. But once again, Penn State responded with three straight points to claim the victory.

“We’re on to something with the way we fought and played today,” Hardin said. “We discovered something in practice and it’s starting to carry over.”

McCulley led the Illini (12-6, 3-5) with a career-high 19 kills, while Penn State (19-0, 8-0) was paced by 20 kills from Nicole Fawcett. Preseason All-American and Freshman of the Year Megan Hodge was limited to 14 kills and only a .111 hitting percentage against the Illini.

“(Hodge) is supposed to be the top prospect in the country, and we shut her down,” Hardin said. “And for Kylie doing what we she did against the best defense in the country, it shows that we are definitely making strides.”