Illinois volleyball takes down West Virginia in four sets, advances in NCAA tournament

Illinois+volleyball+prepares+for+a+serve+during+the+match+against+Indiana+at+Huff+Hall+on+Nov.+12.+The+Illini+took+down+the+West+Virginia+Mountaineers+to+advance+in+the+NCAA+tournament+on+Friday.

Angel Saldivar

Illinois volleyball prepares for a serve during the match against Indiana at Huff Hall on Nov. 12. The Illini took down the West Virginia Mountaineers to advance in the NCAA tournament on Friday.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Illinois used a balanced offense with five different players notching double-digit kills to take down West Virginia in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, 3-1 (23-25, 25-12, 25-22, 25-20). 

The Illini got off to a slow start in the first set, falling behind 10-3 early. Mountaineers outside hitter Adrian Ell was a major factor early, notching four kills and two block assists during their team’s big run to open the match.

Slowly settling in, Illinois then went 8-3 run via three kills from outside hitter Raina Terry, kills from outside hitter Jessica Nunge and middle blocker Kennedy Collins, cutting the team’s deficit to just two points.

Going on another 8-3 run later in the match, the Illini took their first lead of the evening late in the set, leading 19-18 after trailing by as many as seven. 

After Illinois took a 23-21 advantage, West Virginia closed the set on a 4-0 run to take the first set in its first NCAA tournament match in school history.

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    Illinois came out hot in the second set on a service run by setter Diana Brown, jumping out to a 5-0 lead via a block from outside hitter Megan Cooney and middle blocker Kyla Swanson, kills from Cooney and outside/right side hitter Jessica Nunge and two aces from Brown.

    The second set was one-sided, with the Illini dominating from start to finish after struggling to get going in the first frame, taking the set by double digits, 25-12, to tie the match at 1 apiece.

    West Virginia looked more comfortable in the third set after looking out of sorts, with neither squad able to pull away and the biggest advantage being two points early in the frame.

    A 9-1 Illini run opened up the set, with kills from Nunge, Cooney, Swanson and Terry, an ace from Brown and a block assist by Nunge and Cooney giving Illinois a 15-9 lead.

    Though West Virginia battled back and cut its deficit to two points and closed the set on a 6-2 run, Illinois took the third frame, 25-22, after leading by as many as seven points late.

    The Mountaineers opened the fourth frame with intensity while looking to avoid the four-set loss, taking an early 7-5 lead.

    Illinois used another big run to pull ahead again, using a 12-2 stretch via four kills from Cooney and three kills from Nunge to take a 17-9 lead, an advantage it would never let slip away.

    Trading points the rest of the way, the Illini used a kill from Swanson to close out the Mountaineers and advance to the second round of the tournament for the first time since 2018.

    Five Illini finished with double-digit kills — Terry with 18, Cooney with 15, Nunge with 13, Collins with 11 and Swanson with 10 — while Brown notched a season-high 53 assists in the four-set win.

    Illinois will take on host and defending national champion No. 7 Kentucky in the second round on Saturday in Lexington.

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