McMahon shines as Illini volleyball beats Buckeyes

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Illinois’ Liz McMahon spikes the ball against Ohio State during Wednesday’s five-set victory at Huff Hall. 

When it mattered most, Liz McMahon was at her best.

The senior opposite side hitter made sure that even though the No. 12 Illinois volleyball team and No. 17 Ohio State took their second match of the season into five sets, the Illini came out on top. Illinois captured the victory with scores of 25-17, 16-25, 25-20, 22-25 and 15-12 on Wednesday night at Huff Hall. McMahon recorded kills for each of Illinois’ final two points in the fifth set and ended the match with 15 kills, the most on the team.

“I’m just a little more focused toward the end of sets,” McMahon said. “I need to figure out how to get that early on. I was just really determined to close it out.”

In the teams’ first meeting on Oct. 8, the Illini (20-6, 12-3 Big Ten) built a 14-10 lead against the Buckeyes in the fifth set before allowing Ohio State to rattle off six unanswered points to take the match. Illinois built a similar lead Wednesday, going up 14-11 in the fifth. But the Illini held off the Buckeyes (18-9, 9-6) and took the fifth set 15-12.

While McMahon led the team in kills, seven Illini players recorded four or more kills. Junior outside hitter Jocelynn Birks finished with 14 kills and added six digs for the Illini.

The first set was a back and forth affair featuring nine tie scores and five lead changes.

After Ohio State took a 14-13 lead, Illinois mounted a 4-0 run to make the score 17-14. The Illini continued to build momentum and ended the set on a 7-3 run. Ohio State played sloppy early on, recording five service errors and nine attack errors in the first set. 

The second set was closely contested early on. Unlike the first set, in which the Illini pulled away from the Buckeyes, Ohio State built a lead of its own.

While the Illini cut the lead to 23-16, the Buckeyes were pulled away and took the second set.

“They’re a very emotional and hot team,” McMahon said. “They do get a lot of runs on teams. It was a lot of swinging of momentum.”

Unlike each of the first two sets, Illinois came out on fire early in the third — building a 6-0 lead and expanding it to 22-15.

The Buckeyes battled back and cut the lead to 24-20, but Birks ended the set with a controversial kill that seemed to be called in favor of Ohio State initially, before being awarded to Illinois.

The fourth set belonged to Ohio State from start to finish. Ohio State jumped out in front 7-3 and expanded it to lead 16-11. Illinois scored three unanswered points to bring the score to 16-14 but couldn’t pull any closer.

“We didn’t want it to go five,” McMahon said. “At the end of the fourth, we just weren’t making plays, so they got more points than us.”

After the match-clinching, fifth-set win, Hambly praised the grit of Ohio State before summarizing the importance of the win.

“That was a really solid win for us tonight,” Hambly said.

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