Illinois falls to Utah at NCAA Tournament

Outside+hitter+Jacqueline+Quade+spikes+the+ball+during+the+Illinois%E2%80%99+game+in+Utah+at+Provo%2C+Utah%2C+Friday.+The+Illini%E2%80%99s+loss+to+the+Utes+in+the+first+round+of+the+NCAA+tournament+ended+the+team%E2%80%99s+season.

Photo courtesy of Illini athletics

Outside hitter Jacqueline Quade spikes the ball during the Illinois’ game in Utah at Provo, Utah, Friday. The Illini’s loss to the Utes in the first round of the NCAA tournament ended the team’s season.

By Brendyn Jones, Staff writer

On Friday, the Illinois volleyball team concluded its season in the first round of the NCAA tournament, losing in five sets against No. 17 Utah. Illinois gave up the first set, but won the next 2. Utah edged Illinois in the fourth set, and then a mid-set run by Utah in the fifth sealed the win for the Utes.

The match was a close battle throughout the five sets, with each of the first four sets being decided by two points. Utah’s ability to handle the Illinois attack was the difference in the match. The Utes ended the match with 59 digs and 12 blocks, holding the Illini to a .204 hitting percentage.

The Illini benefited heavily from their two starting seniors, outside hitter Jacqueline Quade and middle blocker Ashlyn Fleming. Quade, an All-American, was the leader in kills with 23 over the five sets on a .298 hitting percentage. She also had two service aces and a block to go along with her attack.

Fleming was a presence on both sides of the net with five blocks to go along with 12 kills on a .333 hitting percentage. Fleming was coming off her second time being a Second Team All-Big Team honoree, doing so after transferring to Illinois to finish out her last two seasons of eligibility.

The Illini didn’t lose on their lack of defense, putting up 11 blocks on 42 digs. Junior outside hitter Megan Cooney led the Illini with six blocks, and freshman middle blocker Kennedy Collins matched Fleming’s block total with five.

Cooney was the second leading scorer for the Illini with 15 kills on the match.

The match came down to two 3-point runs in the fifth set for Utah that made the lead too much for Illinois to overcome. With the set tied at five-all, Utah hitter Dani Drews scored two kills in a 3-point stretch for the Utes. Those were just two of her dominant 27 kills on the night.

The Illini fought back from 8-5 to get as close as they would be the rest of the set, down 9-8. When Utah was up 11-9, it went on another three point run to go up 14-9 and pretty much sealed the match. Illinois went on to lose the set 15-10.

Illinois finished the season 16-14 and 11-9 in the Big Ten. The team wrapped up the careers of four seniors in Quade, Fleming, outside hitter Beth Prince and defensive specialist Caroline Welsh.

Quade was a two-time First Team All-Big Ten honoree and got a spot on the All-Big Ten freshman team in 2016, while earning All-American honors in 2018. Fleming earned Second Team All-Big Ten twice in her career, and Prince earned a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award Honoree three times in her career.

@brendyn_jones

[email protected]