Illinois volleyball falls in straight sets in Sweet 16, sees tournament run end in Austin

The+Illinois+volleyball+team+huddles+together+during+its+match+against+Indiana+at+Huff+Hall+on+Nov.+12.+The+Illini+fell+in+the+Sweet+16+of+the+NCAA+tournament+to+the+No.+10+Nebraska+Cornhuskers+on+Thursday%2C+ending+their+season.

Angel Saldivar

The Illinois volleyball team huddles together during its match against Indiana at Huff Hall on Nov. 12. The Illini fell in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament to the No. 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers on Thursday, ending their season.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Illinois’ season came to an end on Thursday, falling in straight sets to No. 10 Nebraska (12-25, 21-25, 17-25) in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

The Illini struggled with graduate student outside hitter and First-Team All-Big Ten selection Megan Cooney, who missed the match due to an unspecified illness. 

Junior middle blocker Kennedy Collins finished with a team-high eight kills, while senior libero/defensive specialist Taylor Kuper recorded two aces.

Junior outside/right side hitter Jessica Nunge notched seven kills, and junior middle blocker Kyla Swanson and sophomore outside hitter Raina Terry registered five kills apiece in the loss.

The first set saw Illinois fall behind early, with Nebraska jumping out to a quick 5-1 lead before a 4-1 run, which included two kills from Terry and a kill from Jessica Nunge.

The Cornhuskers soon extended their lead to five after going on a 5-1 run, though the Illini battled back once again on kills from Terry and Nunge to cut their deficit to two points.

A 7-0 Nebraska run opened up an 18-9 lead, and it never let its advantage slip away. Closing the match on a separate 6-0 run, the Cornhuskers took the mostly-one-sided first set, 25-12.

Illinois looked undeterred early in the second set, opening the frame on a 12-6 run. Three kills from Collins, who was forced to move to outside hitter in Cooney’s absence, and a few Cornhusker errors were huge in the Illini’s fast start to the set.

That six-point lead quickly slipped away, as Nebraska went on a 9-1 run to turn their big deficit into a two-point lead, an advantage that it would not let slip away.

Though the Illini cut their deficit to a single point on two separate occasions, they couldn’t do enough to retake the lead, eventually fighting off four set points before falling 25-21.

Neither squad was able to pull away early in the third set, though a 4-0 Illini run midway through the frame gave them a 13-10 lead as they tried to avoid their fifth straight sweep to the Cornhuskers.

A big Nebraska run once again dashed Illinois’ hopes, with a 10-2 run giving the 10th-ranked team in the nation a 20-15 lead.

Ending the frame on a 5-2 run, the Cornhuskers advanced to the Elite Eight and pulled off their third 3-0 victory over the Illini this season. Nebraska will take on NCAA Regionals host and last year’s second-place finisher No. 2 Texas in Austin on Saturday.

With the loss, the Illini saw their 2021 campaign come to an end, finishing the season with a 22-12 record.

 

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