Illini volleyball overcomes errors, beats Iowa


Illinois’ Jocelynn Birks serves the ball during the game against Iowa at the Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday.

Neither team played pretty, but the Illinois volleyball team got the job done.

No. 15 Illinois beat Iowa in five sets on Wednesday night in Iowa City, Iowa, by scores of 27-29, 25-12, 25-23, 19-25 and 15-11 despite playing sloppy volleyball throughout the match.

“We obviously came out not the way that we wanted to and needed to,” junior outside hitter Jocelynn Birks said. “Throughout the match we just struggled to execute and get our side going and playing our game. We lacked a little bit but we were able to pull out the win.”

The Illini tallied 37 hitting errors and nine service errors, which were both season highs for the team. The errors, in addition to an effective block from both teams, made scoring more difficult than usual throughout the match.

Both teams played sloppy in the first set. Three of the first four points of the match were on either attack errors or service errors. Illinois (13-5, 5-2 Big Ten) jumped out to an 8-5 lead before allowing Iowa (8-10, 0-7) to rally back and tie the set at nine.

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    Iowa remained in control until a late run by the Illini brought the set even again at 24 points apiece. After ties at 25 and 26 points, the Hawkeyes took control of the set and put it away for their first set win in conference play this year.

    Illinois bounced back in the second set as senior outside hitter Morganne Criswell found her offensive rhythm.

    After playing in only one set and finishing with two attempts in a big win over then-No. 5 Penn State on Saturday, Criswell bounced back in a big way. She recorded 15 kills in the match, with six coming in the second set alone.

    Criswell attributed her success to the rhythm she found with junior setter Alexis Viliunas who has thrived in her new role as the sole setter in the Illini’s 5-1 rotation system.

    “I really give (Viliunas) a lot of the credit,” Criswell said. “She had a good tempo going and we really connected well.”

    While Criswell’s play sparked the Illini, Birks led the team offensively, finishing with 18 kills and 14 digs.

    The third set was hotly contested. The Illini and the Hawkeyes went back and forth, finishing the set with six ties. Iowa closed the gap to a single point, but the Illini were able to put the set away.

    The fourth set was more of the same for Illinois. The team recorded 11 errors in the set. After falling behind 20-13 to the Hawkeyes, the Illini were able to fight back to make the score 23-19, but weren’t able to come away with the set victory.

    The match came down a decisive fifth set. As was the case throughout the match, it was back and forth throughout. There were seven ties and three lead changes on the way to a win for the Illini. Illinois ended the set on a 5-1 run and — after starting the season 0-3 in five-set matches — picked up its first five set win of the season.

    While Illinois was able to pull out the five-set victory, the team did not play its cleanest volleyball against one of the Big Ten’s bottom-feeders.

    “It wasn’t how we wanted to play,” Criswell said. “Even though we did pull out a win I think we had to learn that we can’t just be handed matches, we have to work for it.”

    Up next for Illinois is No. 10 Nebraska. The Illini will look to knock off their second top-10 opponent in as many weeks when they play the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday.

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