Illinois volleyball loses in straight sets to No. 1 Nebraska

Illinois%27+Naya+Crittenden+gets+ready+to+hit+the+ball+during+the+match+against+Northwestern+at+Huff+Hall+on+Saturday%2C+October+15.+The+Illini+won+3-0.
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Illinois volleyball loses in straight sets to No. 1 Nebraska

Illinois' Naya Crittenden gets ready to hit the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, October 15. The Illini won 3-0.

Illinois' Naya Crittenden gets ready to hit the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, October 15. The Illini won 3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Naya Crittenden gets ready to hit the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, October 15. The Illini won 3-0.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Naya Crittenden gets ready to hit the ball during the match against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Saturday, October 15. The Illini won 3-0.

By James Boyd, Staff writer

Before the Illinois volleyball team took on No. 1 Nebraska, the Cornhuskers’ Kelly Hunter wore a T-Rex costume during warmups.

The setter could be seen running around, trying to serve a few volleyballs over the net and joking with her teammates in her silly attire. But when the match got underway, it was clear that she and the rest of the Cornhuskers’ were all business.

Nebraska defeated Illinois in straight-sets for the second time this season (26-24, 25-21, 25-19) behind Hunter’s 37 assists and libero Justine Wong-Orantes’ 19 digs. For the majority of the match the Illini had a higher hitting percentage than the Cornhuskers, but 10 service errors helped squander away any chance Illinois had of leaving Lincoln, Nebraska with a victory.

“A couple of our kids struggled to keep the ball in, but otherwise I think we served pretty aggressive and served well,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “I think Jordyn (Poulter) and Michelle (Strizak) had off nights, so that was where several of our errors came from. “

Hambly’s squad dropped to 14-8 on the season with the loss and 7-4 in conference. Nebraska improved to 19-1 and 10-1 overall in the Big Ten – its lone loss coming to Ohio State.

In the first set the Illini rallied from a four-point deficit to it up at 24, but a kill from senior Kadie Rolfzen and service ace by senior Andie Malloy ended Illinois’ hopes of a come-from-behind victory.

In Set Two, the Illini trailed from start to finish.

But in the game’s final set, Illinois jumped out to a quick 6-4 lead behind early kills from seniors Naya Crittenden and Katie Stadick. The team’s traded points for the next several plays, but after being tied 17-17 late, Nebraska took a one-point lead and wouldn’t relinquish it for the rest of the match.

“I thought we fought hard through the whole match,” Hambly said. “We played pretty good defensively and I like some things we did blocking wise. I think there were some good individual players, but it just wasn’t enough to get a win.

Despite the loss, one positive for Illinois was Crittenden’s play. In the two teams’ first matchup of the season, the outside hitter recorded only four kills behind a -.190 hit percentage. In this game, she upped her play with a team-high 11 kills.

“Well we already knew this going into (Friday’s game), but we know that we can play with any team,” Crittenden said. “We know that we have the tools. We know that we can go on runs, and I think the biggest thing for us was going on those runs early on.”

Crittenden said that if her team would have imposed its will offensively from that start, the outcome of the game would have been a lot different.

Illinois hasn’t won a set against Nebraska since 2014 and won’t face the Cornhuskers again this season unless the two team’s meet in the NCAA tournament.

Before the Illini head home they will make one more stop in Iowa City, Iowa, to take on the unranked Hawkeyes. Illinois has won 17-consecutive matches against Iowa and leads the all-time record 59-13, but Iowa has shown signs of improvement compared to one year ago.

Last year the, during their lone matchup of the season, the Illini defeated the Hawkeyes in straight sets. Iowa only managed to win two games in conference, but this season they’ve already won six midway through Big Ten play.

“I think they’ve had a really good season and bunch of really good wins,” Hambly said. “They’re an up-and-coming team in our conference. I think they’re going to be a really difficult team to play that plays really well at home and so we’re going to have our hands full.”

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