Illinois seeks help of Viliunas, goes 1-1 on weekend

By Daniel Dexter

The senior setter started the weekend road matches against Indiana and No. 19 Purdue RBon the sideline, a spot she has become accustomed to since freshman Jordyn Poulter was given the starting job at the beginning of the season. When the team started hitting negative, Hambly made the decision to put Viliunas in the game.

Against Indiana on Saturday, Viliunas helped the team overcome a 19-10 deficit in the first set that led to an eventual sweep of the Hoosiers (27-25, 25-23, 25-15RB).

The Illini looked like they would have a similar result against the Boilermakers on Saturday when they jumped out to a 2-0 match leadRB. But Purdue gained the momentum back and took the match in five sets (24-26, 22-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-11RB).

“We were executing our game plan in the first two sets and really going for it on the attack,” Viliunas said of the match against Purdue. “After the break, we took our foot off the gas pedal, and we weren’t as aggressive as we were in the first two sets. We didn’t really have that sense of urgency to win the match in three sets.”

Even though Purdue committed eight errors in the third set and hit for just .069, it was able to hold the Illini to a .000 hit percentage that included 12 errors. Hambly said the Boilermakers served the ball short frequently in the third set, which frustrated the Illini counterattack.

Outside hitter Jocelynn Birks added that Purdue’s middle blockers Faye Adelaja and Danielle Cuttino used their size to make it difficult for Illinois’ hitters to get their offense going. The pair of blockers recorded five blocks and 12 kills apieceRB.

“In the first couple of sets, we had to work to stop (the middle blockers), and I think they did a really good job of slowing us down as well,” Birks said. “That’s how it is in the Big Ten usually. It’s about defense, and that’s how it went today.”

Birks led the team in kills in both matches with 13 and 20 against Indiana and PurdueRB, respectively. She said she played alright this weekend but would have liked to execute better in the clutch moments at the end of sets.

Closing out matches has been something she and the team have worked on improving. The team was successful in asserting its will on Indiana throughout the match. But against the higher ranked Boilermakers, the aggressiveness was sporadic.

At 4-6 in Big Ten playRB, the Illini find themselves in unfamiliar territory, but Birks and the rest of the team remain confident that Illinois can make a run in the back half of the season.

“I think it was good to see in those first couple of sets that we do have it in us,” Birks said of the Purdue match. “We can figure it out and we will end up being fine by the end of the Big Ten season. You can’t really dwell on it for too long.”

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