Illini come out swinging, sweep No. 14 Michigan State

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Illini come out swinging, sweep No. 14 Michigan State

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter (1) sets the ball to Ali Bastianelli (5) during the match against Arkansas at Huff Hall on Friday, August 26. The Illini won 3-0.

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter (1) sets the ball to Ali Bastianelli (5) during the match against Arkansas at Huff Hall on Friday, August 26. The Illini won 3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter (1) sets the ball to Ali Bastianelli (5) during the match against Arkansas at Huff Hall on Friday, August 26. The Illini won 3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter (1) sets the ball to Ali Bastianelli (5) during the match against Arkansas at Huff Hall on Friday, August 26. The Illini won 3-0.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

 

The first set has been a struggle this season for the Illinois volleyball team.

Coming in to Wednesday night’s match against No. 14 Michigan State, the Illini were 9-8 in the first set. Head coach Kevin Hambly said that he doesn’t mind if the team takes a set to adjust so long as they go on to win.

Maybe in no game was this more apparent than in last Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin, where the Illini came out flat and the now No. 1 Badgers took full advantage of it, en route to a 3-1 win.

From the opening set of this game, the Illini were full of energy.

The first set was hotly contested, with neither team ever leading by more than three until the scoreboard read 24-20, set-point Illinois, but the Illini battled with the Spartans and came out victorious.

“(We focused on) having short little goals, like let’s be the first to ten, let’s be focused, let’s go out an attack this team,” Hambly said. “(The players) also know this team, and know that if they get going early, they can really go. They have some arms, they have some guys that can bring it. So we knew we had to get ahead of that, we had to put pressure on them from point one, or it could have been the opposite (result) the way they play.”

Opposite hitter Naya Crittenden got off to a good start, hitting .667 with four kills set one. Crittenden has been one the Illini’s more inconsistent players this season, but starting hot allowed her to gather momentum early in this game, and keep her playing at her best.

“(Getting off to a good start) was really important for us,” Crittenden said. “We have struggled in past matches where we drop the first set. It was really important for us, and I hope we continue to do that the rest of the season.”

The Illini picked up steam in the second set, building up a five-point lead and forcing a Michigan State timeout at 23-18. The Spartans came out of the break with renewed vigor, and the set started to look eerily similar to the third set of the Wisconsin match, where the Badgers went on a 9-1 run as the Illini squandered a six-point lead in the set.

The Spartans won six consecutive points to set up set-point, the Illini didn’t go down easily. The two teams battled back and forth, and each had three set-points, until eventually Michelle Strizak slammed down point 32 and the Illini took the longest set they’ve played all season.

“Something we talked about before the match was not making the same mistake twice,” setter Jordyn Poulter said. “I think there was a lot of regret after the Wisconsin match about not executing when we were up, so I think the intention on every pass, on every detail, was there (tonight).”

After building a five-point lead in set three, they controlled the final set and won it 25-19 to sweep the Spartans.

“I think that (Michigan State) coming back in that second set and seeing what they can be when their on fire, that got our attention,” Hambly said. “So maybe that was kind of a blessing in disguise. (The players) did a really good job of just staying moment-to-moment and focusing on what was in front of them. I think that’s how we finished it they way we did. And that’s be a challenge when your up, and you feel comfortable.”

The serving was aggressive, and prevented the Spartans from running their offense they way that they wanted to.

“Our serving really messed up the patters of their middles,” Crittenden said. “It also really messed up their right side.”

The passing allowed Poulter to distribute the ball more effectively, and find open shots — five Illini took at least 15 swings and had at least 9 kills.

Hambly said that he impressed with the number of players who got swings.

“We haven’t had that kind of balance, ever, since I’ve been here,” Hambly said. “To have that kind of balance, it just spreads the defense out and makes it a lot more difficult to defend. That’s what we’re striving for. We don’t want to rely on one person to get all of the kills.”

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