McMahon, Birks shine in win against Spartans

By Nicholas Fortin

Two familiar faces led the Illinois volleyball team Saturday night against Michigan State.

At crucial times in close sets against the Spartans, outside hitters Jocelynn Birks and Liz McMahon delivered key kills to put sets and, eventually, the match away, 3-1.

“It was really important,” McMahon said of a 9-0 run in the third set. “It just set the tone that we’re not going away.”

Birks played well for the second consecutive match. She finished with 21 kills and 10 digs, good for her second straight and 18th career 20-kill match along with her 23rd career double-double. McMahon also had an impressive performance, finishing with 15 kills and six blocks.

While the Illini were balanced in attacking throughout the match, with Anna Dorn and Morganne Criswell both finishing with more than six kills, the night belonged to Birks and McMahon. So it seemed only right that when the time came for match point, Birks put away the kill.

 

Illini find different result in second meeting with Spartans

When Illinois faced Michigan State the first time this season, the Spartans handed the Illini a 3-0 loss. The second time around, the results were different.

The Illini attacked quickly from the get-go, jumping out to an early 10-6 lead and not letting up until they had won the first set 25-19.

“We talked a lot about just attacking the whole time,” Birks said. “I think the first time they played us, we backed down the minute they started coming at us. We’ve been working on that with everyone, not just the Spartans. I think it was the fight and the attacking.”

Illinois seemed to briefly move away from its attacking nature at the start of the second set, eventually losing it, but were able to rebound during the break and take the next two sets to win the match in four sets.

The Illini stressed they will need to continue to attack consistently and grow as volleyball players in order to have success as the season progresses.

“We’ve been stressing that all season and the last two seasons to have the will to win and that fight,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “It just takes a while to discover it. 

“We’re getting better as a team, they’re getting more confidence, we’re playing better, but we’re also learning the level you need to compete at in the Big Ten night in and night out. A combination of those two means we could maybe be dangerous as long as we continue down that path and stay healthy.”

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