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Illinois volleyball wins third-straight Illini Classic

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Illinois volleyball wins third-straight Illini Classic

Illinois opposite hitter Naya Crittenden gets ready to spike the ball during the match against Arkansas at Huff Hall on Friday, August 26. The Illini won 3-0.

Illinois opposite hitter Naya Crittenden gets ready to spike the ball during the match against Arkansas at Huff Hall on Friday, August 26. The Illini won 3-0.

Illinois opposite hitter Naya Crittenden gets ready to spike the ball during the match against Arkansas at Huff Hall on Friday, August 26. The Illini won 3-0.

Illinois opposite hitter Naya Crittenden gets ready to spike the ball during the match against Arkansas at Huff Hall on Friday, August 26. The Illini won 3-0.

By James Boyd, Staff writer

Senior Katie Stadick sat in the press conference room at Huff Hall on Saturday night with her left hand heavily bandaged, and senior Naya Crittenden sat right next to her, shoeless.

Crittenden’s bright orange Kobe gym shoes were right in front of her. After playing nine sets of volleyball in 12 hours, the sneakers finally came off.

The Illinois volleyball team won the Illini Classic. Sophomore Jordyn Poulter, Crittenden and Stadick were named to the all-tournament team, with the latter of the three named most valuable player.

But from the looks on their faces, anyone in the room might have thought they had lost the tournament.

Illinois had its first loss of the season in its final match of the day against Missouri State. But since three teams finished 2-1 in the tournament, the Illini were awarded first place finish based on set-win percentage.

“We knew what we needed to do,” Crittenden said. “I think we just kind of let (the fifth set) get away from us, especially in the beginning. They got that first run on us, and from there we had some moments where we were pushing, but I think we needed to just step on the gas and not let up.”

The match started with a tightly-contested first set. Neither team was able to pull away from the other, with Crittenden and Jacqueline Quade leading the Illini in kills. In the end, Missouri St. pulled away just enough to take the set 25-22.

The second set was the complete opposite of the first. Not only did the Illini win the set, they won it by eleven points. Quade and Crittenden continued to contribute, and Stadick picked up five kills in the set as the Illini tied the match at one.

But no two consecutive sets were alike in the match, and the third set was a mirror of the first. Neither team could create a significant lead, and in the end, Missouri state won 25-22.

The fourth set, like the second, was a dominant Illini win.

This set up the decisive fifth set. Even though the outcome of the tournament was set, both teams came out of the break focused on winning the match. But after a quick 6-1 start by the Bears in the match finale, the Illini were unable to pull off a come-from-behind victory.

“We blocked a lot of balls,” Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly said. “The numbers will look like we blocked really well, over three a set, but we didn’t block great. We stuffed balls straight down, but we didn’t get enough deflections, and we weren’t in the right place. We gave them some easy points in places where we weren’t supposed to give up space.”

Earlier in the day, Hambly’s squad faced Xavier, but the outcome was a lot different.

In the first match of the day, Poulter got things started for the Illini, but the opening volley ended with an inaccurate spike from freshman Jacqueline Quade that sent the ball sailing out of bounds.

For the rest of the first set, Illinois struggled to find any offensive rhythm against the Xavier defense. The team would go on to drop the set 25-21 after Musketeer Alexis Newsome spiked the final point past Illini defenders.

In the second set, Illinois looked as if it was on its way into a 0-2 deficit. But after trailing by as many as seven points, senior defensive specialist Allison Palmer led the team on an 8-0 run, helping them squeeze out a 25-23 victory.

“(Allison Palmer) came in and saved us,” Hambly said. “She put pressure on them, and we started attacking. Got them off balance, and got a couple easy points, and all of a sudden things started to turn.”

After the comeback in the second, the rest of the sets remained close. Quade and Stadick recorded 15 kills and 14 kills respectively to guide the Illini to a 3-1 victory.

Illinois won its third Illini Classic in as many years.

But the most valuable player wasn’t satisfied with only one win on the day. Stadick is playing with a fractured left thumb, and said she isn’t sure when it will be 100 percent again.

“It’s fine,” Stadick said of her wrapped thumb. “It’s still there.”

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