Defense credited in victory against Penn State

For the No. 1 Illinois volleyball team, the one constant throughout the up-and-down match against Penn State was the defense.

Getting 13 blocks from redshirt freshman Anna Dorn, six from freshman Liz McMahon and four from junior Erin Johnson on Saturday night, along with 17 team blocks, head coach Kevin Hambly was impressed by the defensive performance.

“I thought at times we played really well and at times we didn’t and at times they played really well and at times they didn’t,” Hambly said. “I think both teams made more errors than they liked. The one thing I can say is I thought the defense and blocking both sides of the net was outstanding. The serving was aggressive and it affected the offense and caused a lot of errors.”

The Illini have said all season that defense is the key to their system. Middle blocker Dorn understands her defensive role and also believes it was the reason they were able to record the first win at Penn State since 1995 for Illinois.

“Defense is the core of our program, like that’s how we win games is by being a lot more aggressive on defense than other teams,” Dorn said. “To get those blocks and to help the team just felt great. In general, getting any Big Ten road win feels awesome, but especially in that kind of environment was absolutely fabulous.”

The Big Ten took note of Dorn’s performance this weekend, naming her the Big Ten Defensive and Freshman Player of the Week. Dorn’s 13 blocks tied the Illinois school record for most blocks in a match.

*Illinois moving forward*

After a tough weekend traveling east, the Illini will need a quick turnaround as they compete against Michigan for their first weekday match of the season.

Illinois will only have two days of practice as Michigan rolls into town Wednesday.

“It’s tough, that’s like getting a win like (Penn State) you kind of have to forget about it right away and move on to the next game because you don’t have much time,” senior Colleen Ward said. “I mean we practice (Monday) and scouting them on Tuesday, so it’s an immediate switch around and just regaining your focus for the next match.”

Despite the turnaround, Dorn said she thinks the Illini will have a good amount of confidence after coming off the Penn State win.

“I think it’s hard to say a road win against Penn State is not a confidence booster, but at the same time we need to keep looking forward to the rest of the season,” Dorn said.

The Illini are only six games into the Big Ten and still have 14 games left in the regular season.

*Third straight as No. 1*

The Illinois volleyball team continues to impress coaches across the country, as they received all but two votes for the No. 1 spot in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll.

For the third straight week, the Illini are on top after defeating Ohio State on Friday and Penn State on Saturday, remaining the only undefeated team in the country.

Illinois is still tied with Nebraska for first place in the Big Ten; the Cornhuskers are the only other team that has not lost in conference play.

The Big Ten continues to have seven teams in the top-25 polls and three in the top 10.