Illini sweep Purdue, Indiana to extend winning streak to 5

For the first time since mid-September, the Illinois volleyball team has a record over .500.

Over the weekend, No. 25 Illinois (14-12, 10-6 Big Ten) got its 13th and 14th wins of the season, both sweeps, against a struggling Indiana (9-18, 1-15 Big Ten) squad and No. 18 Purdue (16-11, 7-9 Big Ten). The Illini beat the Hoosiers by scores of 28-26, 25-18, 25-22 and Purdue by scores of 25-18, 25-18, 25-21.

“Offensively we did some nice things,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “We didn’t defend as well as we liked, and I don’t think we competed the way we really wanted to until the end of sets. We found ways to win instead of really fighting to execute.”

Strong serving by the Hoosiers provided trouble for the Illini in the first set, as the teams swapped leads 12 times. Indiana put Illinois on its heels late in the set, taking a 23-21 lead that the Illini eventually tied at 24 after a Hoosiers attack error. The error gave Illinois an extra pair of points to play and gave head coach Kevin Hambly the opportunity to substitute in his best finisher in junior outside hitter Morganne Criswell. The move ultimately paid off, as Criswell closed out the match with a booming kill that took the momentum from Indiana for the rest of the match.

In set two, the Illini got off to a 8-4 lead early and never looked back, not once giving up a lead throughout the set. The Illinois defense stifled the Indiana hitters, holding the Hoosiers to a .083 hitting percentage. The third set provided more of the same, as Indiana was held to a .075 hitting percentage. The Illini’s attack was balanced, as Criswell, sophomore Jocelynn Birks and junior Liz McMahon contributed 13, 12 and 13 kills respectively, hitting a combined percentage of .281 for the match.

The first set of the match against Purdue began with both teams trading points early, until a few Criswell kills sparked a 4-0 run that put Illinois ahead 17-12, enough to keep the Illini in the lead for the rest of the set. The Illini went down early, 5-2, in set two, but went on an 11-3 run to pull ahead 13-8, never letting up for the set or the match.

“For me it was an emotional match after losing to them the first time,” said Criswell. “I’ve kind of been ready for this match ever since we played them. I thought it was an awesome, emotional match, and sweeping them was even better.”

Criswell led the Illini in kills for the match, accumulating 12 on 23 attempts to go along with three errors for a .391 hitting percentage. Birks and McMahon contributed 10 each.

The weekend sweep caps off a five-match winning streak for Illinois, putting the team in the thick of NCAA tournament contention with only four matches remaining.

“I feel like after we beat Michigan in that come-from-behind win, we just have this confidence,” junior middle blocker Anna Dorn said. “When we were playing against Michigan and Michigan State, it felt like our team was together, we were all playing with the same motive, and we were one. We weren’t six different people on the court, and we were one unit, and I think that confidence combined with that feeling when we play against big teams is going to be really important going forward.”

Blake can be reached at [email protected]