Illinois defeats Northwestern in final regular-season match

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Illinois defeats Northwestern in final regular-season match

By Brendyn Jones, Staff Writer

In their last regular-season match at Huff Hall, seniors Jaqueline Quade and Ashlyn Fleming led the No. 24 Illinois volleyball team (16-12, 11-8) to victory over Northwestern (13-18, 4-15). Quade ended the night with 20 kills on a .366 hitting percentage, while Fleming contributed a dozen kills with eight blocks, all to beat Northwestern in four sets.

With the win, the Illini clinched record above .500 in the Big Ten for the third season in a row under head coach Chris Tamas.

Fleming set the defensive tone for the Illini as they totaled 11 blocks through four sets and held the Wildcat offense to a .151 hitting percentage. Being the cornerstone of the Illinois defense in the middle blocker position isn’t new to Fleming after two years with the team.

“Like we do with every team, we just kind of scouted them before,” Fleming said. “So, we knew what their plan was and the people that they were going to set a lot. So, I think we kind of transitioned that well tonight, and communicated a lot between our front row and our back row, and it kind of just establishes that trust.”

Illinois limited Northwestern’s attack by shutting down the Wildcat’s best offensive option, Temi Thomas-Ailara, who averages 4.18 kills-per-set on a .215 hitting percentage. But she finished the match with 12 kills, on a .167 hitting percentage.

Illinois jumped out to an early two-set, winning the first set 25-18 and the second 25-22. In the third set, Northwestern had multiple runs to get as much as a 20-15 lead in the game. Illinois fought back to even the match at 23-23 but Northwestern closed it out 25-23. In the last set, Quade led the team with seven kills, and the match point came from a block by Fleming and setter Diana Brown.

Several of the younger players also contributed on Illinois’ Senior Night. Freshman Kennedy Collins put up eight kills on a .571 hitting percentage to go along with three blocks. Brown assisted 52 times in the match, with nine digs and three blocks as well.

Illinois’ will see Northwestern again in the team’s final regular-season match. The Illini will travel north to Evanston Saturday and will look to close out the series with the Wildcats 2-0. A second win against Northwestern will strengthen the Illini’s case for an NCAA tournament bid.

“Northwestern is a tough opponent,” Fleming said. “That we just have to really make sure that we start off strong because they can throw whatever they will at us. But really just kind of take what we did good from this match, and then also what we did wrong so we can learn from it and lay that much better on Saturday.”

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