Illinois volleyball’s stout defense, stellar offense leads way to first ranked win over No. 11 Penn State

Junior+outside+hitter+Raina+Terry+goes+to+hit+the+ball+over+the+net+during+Illinois+match+against+Northwestern+on+Sept.+24.+

Sydney Laput

Junior outside hitter Raina Terry goes to hit the ball over the net during Illinois’ match against Northwestern on Sept. 24.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

With three sweeps on the bounce and no ranked wins after 10 attempts, Illinois volleyball entered the second half of conference play with a rematch against No. 11 Penn State, who swept the Illini just three weeks prior. Despite the poor run of form, the Illini looked electric Wednesday night, knocking off the Nittany Lions in four sets (25-19, 25-20, 23-25, 25-23).

Junior outside hitter Raina Terry’s performance was incredible, as she tied her season-best 24 kills, hitting for .380%. Defensively, she also tallied four blocks on the night. Quite clearly the Illini’s MVP on the night, her teammates actually weren’t surprised by the numbers the junior put up.

“Honestly, she does this all the time,” redshirt senior setter Diana Brown said. “(Getting her the ball) was a whole team effort. We just got the ball to her and set her in the right moments, set our middles in the right moments so she’s not triple-blocked. When she has 20, 30 kills, however many she had, I know she’s feeling it.”

While Terry’s performance wasn’t a surprise at all to her teammates, her last time hitting against the Nittany Lions was an underwhelming one.

On October 9th, when these teams played for the first time this season, Terry had just eight kills in the sweep loss. In a comparable amount of attempts to Wednesday night, she also hit just .026%, good for her third-worst hitting percentage this season.

In just two weeks and some change, Terry turned it around completely, finding the gaps that she wasn’t finding last time. What changed in these two busy weeks, where the Illini have lost four matches and won just once?

“I don’t think much was different,” Terry said about the team’s approach to the match. “I think we just executed a bit better. We didn’t really change much from what we did last time.”

Executing “a bit better” is a bit of an understatement. The difference between the two Illinois teams in both games was astronomical. Despite fielding extremely similar lineups both times, the Illini hit for .138% better than the match on the 9th (.300%) and had five more blocks overall (15).

The blocking in particular was noticeably better. While Terry stood out offensively, putting seemingly every ball away, the entire lineup got involved in the blocking, with senior middle blockers Rylee Hinton and Kennedy Collins combining for half of the team’s individual blocks (14 of 28). While the Illini have been running the Big Ten gauntlet, facing five top-10 opponents in the past month, a huge focus in practice was on blocking.

“As middle blockers we’ve been working on it all week,” Collins said. “Just getting our hands over quickly. It showed that we put in work this week … I think if we keep working on it, it will carry on to our next match as well.” 

The Illini’s defensive prowess showed at the net, as well as on the floor Wednesday night. The entire starting lineup got involved with every starter, barring sophomore libero Caroline Barnes, tallying at least three blocks. In terms of floor defense, Barnes, Brown and redshirt freshman setter Brooke Mosher racked up 29 digs between the three, contributing to an all around stout defensive performance.

Looking ahead, the Illini’s path to the tournament seems much clearer with a ranked win under their belts. Winning in such a dominant fashion, though, could propel them to even more along the way. Now that Illinois has put its stamp on the season, the team is more motivated than ever.

“It shows that we are a force to be reckoned with,” Terry said. “We are Illinois volleyball, and we should be feared.”

 

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