Illinois volleyball loses fifth straight match

Illinois%27+Michelle+Strizak+serves+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 fifth straight match

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

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

Austin Yattoni

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

By James Boyd, Staff writer

 

On Oct. 21st the Illinois volleyball team defeated Indiana in straight sets to move to 14-6 on the season and 7-2 overall in the Big Ten.

Since then, Illinois has lost five-consecutive conference matches, including its most recent loss to No. 16 Michigan State. In the two teams’ first meeting, the Illini defeated the Spartans in straight sets. This time around Michigan State returned the favor by handing the Illini their fourth straight sets loss of the season (16-25, 20-25, 22-25).

“They were a good team tonight,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “They took advantage of our mistakes and set a system up that made it really difficult for us to score, and we couldn’t really get comfortable all night.”

Entering Saturday’s match, Illinois was coming off of a 1-3 loss to Michigan the night before. On the other side of the net Michigan State was riding a three-match win streak into Jenison Field House.

In the first set the Illini jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead behind kills from seniors Naya Crittenden and Michelle Strizak, but the team would be outscored 24-13 the rest of the way. Illinois totaled eight errors during its sluggish start and recorded a measly .057 hitting percentage in the opening set.

In the second and third sets the Illini showed a lot more resiliency. In the match’s final set the Illini trailed the Spartans 24-15 before going on a 7-0 run. Michigan State would eventually complete the sweep with a 25-22 victory.

“They were playing really aggressively,” senior McKenna Keslay said. “They are a great serving team and they’re really big. But I still think we did a good job of being scrappy. At the end there we fought really really hard. We were down by a couple and we knew we had to fight back and we did.”

The lopsided defeat was a bit more personal for Kelsay. Her older sister, Kristen, is an assistant coach for the Spartans and Saturday could possibly be the last time the two face each other on the collegiate level. She said she had a chance to talk to her sister before and after the match.

“We’re both like really really close,” Kelsay said. “What we stressed after the match is just how cool it has been to be able to play each other. I mean not many people get that opportunity to be against their sister for four years. I’m proud of her. She’s proud of me.”

After being on the road for the past two weekends, Illinois will have a four-match home stand to regroup and get back in the win column.

Hambly said that being away eliminates a lot of distractions from his team, but also acknowledged that he’s grateful for the upcoming home matches because he believes his team plays better at Huff Hall.

Sophomore Ali Bastianelli posted eight kills and seven block assists against the Spartans, but was more concerned with the state of her team as opposed to her individual play.

“I mean all season we try to find out competitive identity,” Bastianelli said. “We know we have to get some wins and we know that we have a very tough schedule coming up. We have to find out who we want to be and who we want to play like. We don’t have that many more chances to do that.”

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