Illinois volleyball loses sixth-straight match

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Illinois volleyball loses sixth-straight match

Jordyn Poulter (1) jumps up setting the ball for her teammate to spike against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Oct. 15, 2016. Illini beat Northwestern 3-0.

Jordyn Poulter (1) jumps up setting the ball for her teammate to spike against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Oct. 15, 2016. Illini beat Northwestern 3-0.

Elisabeth Neely

Jordyn Poulter (1) jumps up setting the ball for her teammate to spike against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Oct. 15, 2016. Illini beat Northwestern 3-0.

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

Jordyn Poulter (1) jumps up setting the ball for her teammate to spike against Northwestern at Huff Hall on Oct. 15, 2016. Illini beat Northwestern 3-0.

By James Boyd, Staff writer

Kevin Hambly has won 175 games through eight seasons as head coach of the Illinois volleyball team, and on Friday night that number would stay the same.

No. 3 Wisconsin swept Illinois (25-17, 25-18, 25-21) at Huff Hall to improve to 21-3 overall and 13-2 in conference play. It was the Illini’s sixth-consecutive loss and their fifth straight-sets loss of the season.

The Illini have been to the Sweet Sixteen the past three years, but this latest defeat has put its postseason hopes in jeopardy.

“I think it’s do or die right now,” sophomore Jordyn Poulter said. “We need to put it together or else the season is going to be over early for us.”

This was Illinois’ second meetup with Wisconsin this season. Through both matches, the Illini have won only one set, and the team struggled to find any offensive rhythm against the Badgers on Friday night.

Illinois got off to a slow start in the first set, trailing 7-2 but fought back to bring the score within one at 13-12. The Badgers responded by taking a commanding 20-13 lead, behind kills from seniors Haleigh Nelson and Romana Kriskova and eventually won the first set 25-17.

The second and third sets mirrored the first. Illinois recorded a negative hit percentage in the opening set and improved marginally in latter stages of the match.

“We didn’t play well early,” Hambly said. “I thought we figured some things out (late on). We just couldn’t sustain the level (of play). They just kept scoring against us and we made errors at really opportune times which is disappointing.”

Hambly said that Wisconsin’s defense was stifling in the first set, and highlighted that the Badgers only gave up four kills then.

Illinois totaled 28 kills by the end of the night and would only post a team hitting percentage of .069 – its lowest of the season. On the other side of the court, Wisconsin had four players record nine or more kills throughout the match.

Poulter has averaged over 10 assists per set this season, but only amassed 25 on the night.

“They played very, very good defense,” Poulter said. “They’re really committed to making play. You know, I think our passers did a very good job of getting us in system a lot, so it’s unfortunate when you’re up against a team who’s very scrappy on defense.”

Illinois will be back Saturday night against No. 2 Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are currently on a four-match win streak and are 11-3 in the Big Ten.

Five matches remain in the Illini’s season and at this point Hambly said the team is no longer in control of its fate. He said his squad must win to give itself a chance at postseason consideration.

“To make the tournament we’ve got to play at a high level,” Hambly said. “We’ve got to put ourselves in position to do that. It’s out of our hands so we’ve got to do as much as we can to try to get ourselves in position, and getting a win against a team like Minnesota is a big deal.”

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