Volleyball still in 1st after 3-set loss to Wildcats

EVANSTON, Ill. — Every point in volleyball begins with the serve.

Unfortunately for the No. 6 Illini, the serve could never get going against No. 24 Northwestern on Friday night.

The Illini (20-4, 12-2 Big Ten) had 10 service errors, resulting in a three-set 25-22, 25-23, 25-20, sweep by the Wildcats in Evanston, Ill.

“We didn’t serve tough enough,” Illini head coach Kevin Hambly said. “Serving is pretty simple. It’s the only thing you can do that you can be in complete control of and it should be consistent and it wasn’t.”

It wasn’t only service errors that plagued the Orange and Blue force, as the passing game was also a struggle for the Illini.

“We definitely lost the serve-pass battle against them and that was pretty much the key of the game,” senior setter Hillary Haen said.

Junior outside hitter Colleen Ward led the attack with 16 kills and Illinois had a .257 hitting percentage, but the team also had 15 attack errors.

The Wildcats hit .375 and were led by their two middle blockers, senior Naomi Johnson, who posted 14 kills, and graduate student Sabel Moffett, who had 12 kills.

“They have a great team all the way around,” Haen said. “I think that Sabel Moffett is an incredible player.

“Their other middle, Naomi Johnson, had extremely high numbers against us; we had trouble stopping them. They were really ready to battle and we weren’t.”

Not everything was in the Illini’s control in a night with multiple controversial calls, including one during set point of the second set with Northwestern leading 24-23.

During the play, the ball was ruled out on an attack by sophomore middle blocker Erin Johnson, but the crowd thought the ball may have been tipped.

Illinois still maintains its position at first place in the Big Ten, now just one match ahead of Penn State in the standings.

“In the Big Ten (a loss is) just gonna happen,” Bangert said. “I think one thing that was really good about tonight was when we did have a pass we were able to execute really well. I think we did a good job of that tonight, and that’s definitely motivation that we’re still OK.”

The team has one week off before returning to competition, where it hopes to rebound against Ohio State.

“It’s only our fourth loss, so we’re not freaking out right now. We didn’t play well, and it’s too bad,” Hambly said. “We go to the next match and we do the exact opposite.”

But the Illini believe they can learn a lesson from the loss.

“At the end of the day, we have to hold ourselves accountable for our play,” Haen said. “Whether it’s the environment, the refs, anything that can distract you from playing the game, it’s all on our shoulders.”