Kelsay sisters battle in first match of weekend for Illini

Freshman McKenna Kelsay had been waiting for Friday’s game against Michigan State for a long time. The setter and defensive specialist was excited to not only have the opportunity to help the Illini in her first real action of her career for Illinois, but to be able to do it against her older sister Kristen, a senior setter for the Spartans.

Illinois played twice on the weekend, losing Friday in straight sets to Michigan State, the elder Kelsay’s school, before pulling off an upset over Michigan in five sets.

“That was so cool. We had been talking about it basically since I committed. My whole family has been so excited for it. So being out there and then getting to play her and see her across the net was one of the coolest things,” Kelsay said.

McKenna, who thinks of Kristen as her volleyball role model said her family had no problem cheering for both teams.

“My dad actually had a shirt that he made that was split for Illinois and Michigan State, so it was really cool to see that,” McKenna said. “My mom at one point was just going: ‘Go everyone.’ So they were cheering for both sides, each point they were cheering.”

When asked if Kristen will hold the win over her head, McKenna was quick to point out the two teams will meet again later this season and that Kristen had been nothing but supportive.

“She might, but we play them again so we’re going to come out next game and hopefully we can get them so I can rub it her face a little bit,” McKenna said. “She didn’t say anything about that to me last night. She was just so happy for me and we were both just so excited that we got to play against each other.”

Birks influences both matches in different ways

After starting the weekend slow against Michigan State, sophomore outside hitter Jocelynn Birks rebounded Saturday with her 15th 20-kill game against Michigan.

Birks finished with only six kills in the Michigan State match but contributed elsewhere, leading the Illini with eight digs in the contest. Against then No. 14 Michigan, Birks finished with 21 kills and eight digs.

“She was good,” Hambly said of Birks’ performance. “I was happy to see her get back on track.”

Beltran’s solid weekend moves her closer to school digs record

After finishing the weekend with 21 total digs in two matches, senior libero Jennifer Beltran is now 13th all-time in Big Ten conference history for digs.

Beltran, who led the Illini with 14 digs against Michigan, had seven digs good for second against Michigan State on Friday.

Beltran is also closing in on Illinois’ all-time record for digs. She currently has 1889 digs for her career, 22 digs behind ’09 Illinois alumni Ashley Edinger.

Hambly said Beltran also excelled in the serve-receive battle this weekend where she completed the weekend without a service error, calling her performance in both matches, “really steady.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and @IlliniSportsGuy.