Illinois falls to Michigan on the road

Ashlyn+Fleming+spikes+the+ball+during+the+Illini%E2%80%99s+game+versus+the+Wolverines+at+the+Cliff+Keen+Arena+on+Saturday.+The+Illini+lost+3-1.

Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Ashlyn Fleming spikes the ball during the Illini’s game versus the Wolverines at the Cliff Keen Arena on Saturday. The Illini lost 3-1.

By Rachel Spencer, Assistant Sports Editor

No. 21 Illinois volleyball dropped a road game at the University of Michigan, making Saturday’s 3-1 loss the program’s second difficult meeting with the Wolverines this season. The loss follows a familiar pattern for the Illini this season, as their road struggles have culminated to a 4-5 away record. 

Unable to shake offensive struggles over the course of the night, the Illini only managed to get above .200 hitting percentage in thethird set, which they narrowly won 25-23. The third set was also highlighted by six serving aces, four of which came from senior middle blocker Ashlyn Fleming — a payoff for Illinois’ usual high-risk-high-reward serving approach. Fleming would prove to be the Illini’s leading scorer for the evening, finishing the night with 14.5 points. While senior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade had an uncharacteristically inconsistent evening, she remained right on Fleming’s heels with 13 points and two serving aces of her own.

Struggles with injuries, however, led to complications during the Illini’s campaign in Ann Arbor, Michigan, requiring head coach Chris Tamas to switch things up on the floor Saturday. 

“Turnaround is getting (shorter), it gets tough to recover in some of these situations, so it’s nothing major right now, but it’s enough that it’s hobbling us a little bit,” Tamas said. “We’re trying to find answers with people, but like I said, we’re pretty deep and I trust whoever’s out there on the floor to get the job done and everyone just needs to keep being ready for that.”

One standout coming off the Illini bench was freshman middle blocker Rylee Hinton, who, while only picking up two kills on the night, made a clean performance and stayed at .500 hitting percentage. Hinton also managed one solo block and one block assist, making her one of only three Illini with a solo block against the Wolverines. 

Still, the turnaround after what appeared to be a third set rally wasn’t enough to get the job done for what would have been back-to-back road victories — something the Illini haven’t posted since early in October when they routed both the Hoosiers and Boilermakers at the start of Big Ten competition. A dismal hitting percentage of only .031 and 11 of Illinois’ 25 total attack errors slowed the team’s momentum, dropping the fourth and final set, 25-18.

Next up for Illinois will be a rematch against No. 8 Pennsylvania State on Nov. 15. The two programs’ last meeting on Oct. 23 proved to be a five-set battle on Penn State’s home territory. 

With a little less than a week to prepare for Penn State’s arrival at Huff Hall, Tamas emphasized focus and presence as two keys for getting through the thick of Illinois’ Big Ten schedule.

“It’s a lot about making sure we come in, (that) we come in for maybe not the longest period of time, but we need to come in,” Tamas said. “I said we need to be intense and intent on what we’re doing in practice and making sure that we’re really good about squeezing the most out of every rep and treating it like it’s 23-all in whatever set that we’re playing.”

@rachelspenc

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