Illini volleyball advances to Sweet 16 after 3-1 win against Marquette

The 2013 season is looking a lot like 2011.

Similar to the 2011 team’s run to the NCAA championship game, the 2013 Illinois volleyball team was matched up with Marquette in the tournament’s second round. And just like in 2011, the Illini prevailed, this time 3-1, by scores of 19-25, 25-17, 25-13, 25-13. Illinois swept Marquette in the teams’ 2011 tournament meeting.

“(Marquette) came out hot and on fire and they came out to attack us,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “I thought the kids could have went one or two directions after that first set. They could have got nervous or anxious and made a lot of errors, but instead they stayed calm and found the right arousal level and we kind of steadied out and figured them out a little bit. Overall, I think we performed really well in the last three sets. As good as we have, maybe, in a while.”

The Illini started off the match much like their first-round matchup against Morehead State, somewhat disconcerted. A four-point run early on in the first set had Illinois trailing by five, a deficit the team couldn’t recover from. Despite the setback in the set, the Illini, like the Huff Hall crowd around them, never lost confidence. Illinois improved dramatically defensively over the course of the match, holding Marquette to .171, .097 and .000 hitting percentages in the final three sets.

“I thought defensively we made some great adjustments, and we defended them really well,” Hambly said. “You don’t hold that team to zero. They’re a really efficient team. … It’s not an easy task what we did to a very, very good offensive team.”

Sophomore outside hitter Jocelynn Birks, who starred in the first round, was held to a .133 hitting percentage the first two sets; however, Hambly utilized junior Liz McMahon and his middle blockers Katie Stadick and Anna Dorn on the offensive. McMahon became the focal point of the offense, taking pressure off Birks, as the junior hitter racked up 17 kills on a .406 hitting percentage. Stadick and Dorn combined for 12 kills, a .523 hitting percentage and 10 block assists.

“(Stadick) was huge for us offensively and defensively,” McMahon said. “She came in and stuffed the ball right away. … It’s an easy transition for us to make between the middles and that’s great.”

The win pits the Illini in the Sweet 16, where they will have to move a few blocks down to State Farm Center to face a familiar rival in Purdue. State Farm Center is scheduled to host the next two rounds of the tournament.

“It’s going to be a different atmosphere (in State Farm Center),” McMahon said. “Huff was even different when we were hosting. We’re going to have to keep living in the moment and not get ahead of ourselves and not get worked up or anything like that.”

Blake can be reached at [email protected]