Illini volleyball struggles in weekend conference

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Illini volleyball struggles in weekend conference

Senior Ashley Fleming sets the ball over two Minnesota defenders in Maturi Pavilion Saturday. The Illini lost to the Gophers 3-1.

Senior Ashley Fleming sets the ball over two Minnesota defenders in Maturi Pavilion Saturday. The Illini lost to the Gophers 3-1.

Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Senior Ashley Fleming sets the ball over two Minnesota defenders in Maturi Pavilion Saturday. The Illini lost to the Gophers 3-1.

Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Senior Ashley Fleming sets the ball over two Minnesota defenders in Maturi Pavilion Saturday. The Illini lost to the Gophers 3-1.

By Gabby Hajduk, Staff Writer

Illinois volleyball began its three-match road trip against two Big Ten opponents ranked in the top 10 on Friday in Wisconsin. After falling to the Badgers in five sets, the No. 17 Illini traveled to Minnesota on Saturday in hopes of redemption but were beaten 3-1 by the Gophers.

No. 6 Wisconsin remains undefeated in Big Ten play, while No. 7 Minnesota’s only conference loss came from Wisconsin on Oct. 13. Illinois now has four conference losses. Illinois lost just three regular-season Big Ten matches last season.

Falling to 9-8 over the weekend, Illinois struggled out of the gates against Wisconsin.

The Illini dropped the first set 25-12, which was led by a Badgers 9-0 run in the middle of the set. Throughout those 9 points, Illinois had three attack errors.

Illinois was quickly revived in the second set, winning the first three points. The Illini remained steady throughout the set and sealed the by taking 6 of the last 8 points, 3 of those coming from kills by sophomore Mica Allison.

Wisconsin initially regained control in the third set before Illinois broke through with back-to-back kills from junior Megan Cooney to tie it up 16-16. After several back-and-forth points, sophomore Taylor Kuper had an ace in between two kills from senior Jacqueline Quade to take the third set 25-23.

The fourth set brought another close fight between the teams, but Wisconsin evened things up, hitting .212 compared to Illinois’ .132 clip.

After a tight match through four sets, the Illini lost their offensive rhythm, winning just 4 points in the fifth set. Illinois had four attack errors, hitting .000; Wisconsin hit a match-high .692.

Quade led the loss with 19 kills while Cooney followed with 14, but both Illini made 11 attack errors against the Badgers.

The Illini struggled as a whole with miscommunication on Friday, with 31 errors coming off the attack along with 12 service errors.

While Illinois was given a new life on Saturday, the same mistakes followed them into Minnesota. The Illini made another 31 attack errors against the Gophers, causing them to fall short in three of the four sets.

Cooney was strong for the Illini again, leading the way with 16 kills while Quade had 14 and senior Ashlyn Fleming recorded 12. Illinois hit .141 as a team while Minnesota hit .185.

Freshman Kennedy Collins was a bright sport for the Illini, recording a career-best 10 blocks. Collins has the second-most blocks for Illinois this season with 49 and Fleming is the biggest threat at the net with 73.

The Illini had another tough start on Saturday, dropping the first set 25-16 after giving up the first 6 points of the match.

Illinois stepped it up in the second set, having a 5-point lead near the middle mark, but Minnesota fought its way back to take another set 25-22. The Illini made nine errors in the set.

Proving its ability to come back, Illinois made a 6-point run in the third set after being down by 5 to keep the match alive. With a 25-22 finish, the Illini held the Gophers to a .130 in the third set.

While Minnesota controlled most of the fourth set, with a 9-point lead early on, Illinois found its way back into the set near the end. The Illini overcame match point for Minnesota three times but ultimately fell 25-23.

Illinois will have another chance for a Big Ten win on the road this week as they travel to No. 8 Penn State on Wednesday. The Nittany Lions have only one conference loss, also to the Badgers, but will play the Illini on a four-game winning streak.

@gabby_h11

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