‘We just did that’: Illinois volleyball knocks off No. 11 Penn State in midweek home thriller

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Sydney Laput

Redshirt senior setter Diana Brown goes to set the ball during the game against Northwestern on Sept. 24.

By Adam Rosen, Staff Writer

Illini volleyball (9-11, 4-6) hosted No. 11 Penn State (17-4, 6-4) at Huff Hall for their second matchup with the Nittany Lions of the season. The last time the teams matched up, Penn State won in a straight sweep, but this time it would be the Illini who took home the spoils, in a 3-1 victory at Huff Hall.

The Illini entered the night on a three-game losing streak, all via a sweep, still looking for their first ranked win to try and play their way into a tournament bid.

Huff Hall was filled with students in costumes cheering as the opening act for Halloweekend, hyping up the Illini in the first set. The set was a defensive masterclass by the Illini, especially by senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins, who had four blocks as the Illini took the set 25-19. Junior outside hitter Raina Terry carried the offense with nine kills, hitting .600% in the first.

The Illini obtained their first set victory in two weeks and had all the momentum going into set two against the Nittany Lions. Illinois continued its defensive stoutness as the team racked up double-digit blocks en route to a 25-20 set-two victory, aided by the appearance of BB-8 in the student section. 

Illinois had Penn State pinned against its back with a commanding two-set lead, but the Nittany Lions did not let that phase them, as they took set three and forced a pivotal fourth set, staving off the sweep, 25-23. The Illini closed the set out on a 7-1 run, before falling short of match point after a service error by sophomore libero Caroline Barnes.

The Illini still had momentum going into set four with a 2-1 lead, especially after they nearly made a miraculous comeback. Set four was a constant battle between both teams, but it was Illinois who came out on top, with a 25-23 set four win, earning their first ranked win of the season, in a stunner over the Nittany Lions.

Terry’s personal-best match concluded with 24 kills and four blocks on 50 attempts. The Illini’s pair of middle blockers in Collins and Rylee Hinton put up a combined 14 blocks.

Redshirt senior setter Diana Brown talked about her emotions following match point after the team’s 10th time attempting an upset over ranked opposition.

“For me at least, it was, ‘We just did that,’” Brown said. “This is how we can play, we finally got that win we needed.”

A defensive masterclass powered by the middle blockers, the Illini have been planning for this all week. Collins said the defensive improvements are down to what went down in practice this week.

“We worked on defense this entire week,” Collins said. “It showed and I think if we keep working on it, that will carry on into the next match.”

The Illini go on the road to face Rutgers (7-15, 1-9) on Sunday, looking to sweep the season series.

 

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