Illinois volleyball struggles in win against Northwestern

First place in the Big Ten Conference was on the line Saturday at Huff Hall.

After five sets between two teams undefeated in the Big Ten, the No. 7 Illini (12-2, 4-0) defeated No. 25 Northwestern (13-2, 2-1) 22-25, 25-19, 30-28, 21-25, 15-11.

First place in the Big Ten Conference was on the line Saturday at Huff Hall.

After five sets between two teams undefeated in the Big Ten, the No. 7 Illini (12-2, 4-0) defeated No. 25 Northwestern (13-2, 2-1) 22-25, 25-19, 30-28, 21-25, 15-11.

Johannah Bangert — who broke Mary Eggers’ career blocks, a school record of 565 — recorded four of her 10 total blocks in the last stanza to help Illinois seal a challenging victory.

Illini head coach Kevin Hambly was impressed with his team’s resiliency after the hard-fought match.

“There’s some things we’re going to have to adjust because they did some things that teams typically don’t do against us,” Hambly said. “It was good for us to figure that out and figure out a way to win. They are tough and they grind it out and work real hard.”

Northwestern got off to a fast start by winning the first set when it came back from a 22-18 deficit by ending with seven straight points.

In the second set the two teams traded points up to a 14-14 tie when a pair of kills by senior outside hitter Laura DeBruler gave Illinois the lead, which would not be given back.

Then in the third frame facing game point, junior outside hitter Colleen Ward sent down a spike that the Wildcats thought was out. Their head coach, Keylor Chan, then received a misconduct penalty for yelling at a referee, giving the Illini another point and enough momentum to win the set.

Northwestern went on to win the fourth before the two teams took it into the final set.

Both teams were defensively sound throughout the night. The Wildcats had 14 total blocks while the Illini had 16.

Senior setter Hillary Haen spoke highly of Northwestern’s defensive staples, Naomi Johnson and Madalyn Shalter, and their ability to neutralize Illinois’ attack.

“Their middles are probably their two stud players, and they’re extremely athletic; they’re fast,” Haen said. “I think the combination of me being a little off and them being such fantastic players created that.”

For the second straight match, Illinois was unable to find a consistent attack. Despite 22 kills from Ward, 21 kills from DeBruler and 18 kills from junior outside hitter Michelle Bartsch, the Illini collectively hit just .160.

The squad was still able to pick up the victory and become the only undefeated team in Big Ten play. But Bangert said if Illinois wants to continue its winning ways, it must play well from the start of the match to the end.

“What we’ve been struggling with, even in the last couple of matches, is just consistency,” Bangert said. “We know what kind of rhythm we need to play in, but finding that rhythm earlier and staying in that. That’s just still something we’re continuing to work on.”