The Daily Illini

Five-set loss leaves sour taste for Illinois volleyball

Illinois' Michelle Strizak passes the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, October 15. The Illini won 3-0.

Illinois' Michelle Strizak passes the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, October 15. The Illini won 3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Michelle Strizak passes the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, October 15. The Illini won 3-0.

By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

Saturday night started well for the Illinois volleyball team.

Matched up against No. 24 Purdue, Illinois dominated the first set, winning 25-14. However, it wasn’t so much the Illini’s play that won the set, but the Boilermaker’s 11 errors.

“I think we didn’t play that well (in the first set), actually,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “They gave us 14 points in that set, we didn’t really earn that one.”

Purdue came out of the gate totally out-of-sync.

That state of mind did not last long, however. The Illini led most of the second set but never completely shook the Boilermakers. Purdue hung around, and when the score hit 19-17 in favor of the Illini, the Boilermakers pounced and went on an 8-3 run to close out the set and even the match up at one.

“(Purdue) just got loose offensively, they just started swinging away,” outside hitter Michelle Strizak said. “And then at the same time they started to play really scrappy.”

The Boilermakers notched six blocks in that set alone. The big, physical front line of Purdue gave the Illini fits at times Saturday night, and was one of the biggest factors in their win.

Hambly and his team had to shake off the disappointing end to set two during the break.

“We made some defensive adjustments,” Strizak said. “(Purdue’s Danielle) Cuttino was really scoring on us, so we made some adjustments there, and we talked about them being emotional and us not getting caught up in that and just playing our game.”

The third set was the tightest of the match with the teams tying the score 11 times, and the Illini stayed ahead of the Boilermakers for the entire set, save one point.

The Illini spread the ball offensively, with five players recording kills in the set and capitalized on the mistakes that Purdue made during the set.

Ali Bastianelli took the block out of the picture with a soft attempt, and when it was returned to her she had a clear shot and slammed it home. Katie Stadick found herself a clear lane later in the set as the Illini began to pick up steam, and Michelle Strizak had a heads-up kill on an overpass by Purdue as the Illini closed the set out.

“We didn’t really earn (the first set), but we did in the third.” Hambly said. “They were very physical, and they played at a high level, and we didn’t match that level, except in the third set.”

Set four initially looked like set three, with Illinois fighting its way to a 12-10 lead, but from that point on it was all Purdue. The Boilermakers won the next five points, and finished the set with an incredible 15-4 run that seemed to take the life out of the Illini.

Purdue’s block resumed pestering the Illini hitters, the back line dug shot after shot, and Purdue simply executed at a higher level than the Illini did from the middle of set four onwards.

The Boilermakers then ran away with the fifth set and the match.

“They executed better than we did,” Hambly said. “They dug a ton of balls. They took it from us. They made plays and they beat us. We didn’t execute the way we wanted to on defense, we didn’t make changes there. It was disappointing.”

That disappointment was very clear in both Hambly and Strizak after the loss, it was clear that they both felt that the team could have brought more to the court Saturday night.

“I think that we kinda got timid and backed off,” Strizak said. “They really needed that win, and they played with no fear, and that really worked for them.”

Both player and coach mentioned that the team’s defensive performance wasn’t what it needed to be against Purdue, but Hambly pointed out that the responsibility did not fall solely on the players.

“I thought (tonight) was a step backwards defensively,” Hambly said. “I’m not sure we held (the players) accountable enough during the match, as a staff. I thought out plan was good but Purdue made adjustments and we were slower to adjust than we needed to be as a staff.”

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