Illinois hands Michigan 5th straight loss

Huff Hall was oddly quiet at one point during the fourth set of Wednesday’s Illinois-Michigan volleyball match.

After dominating the first two sets, the No. 1 Illini were trailing 8-4 in the fourth.

Finally, with a few blocks and excitement from the crowd, the Illini tied the match at 13, later taking the lead and never looking back en route to a 3-1 victory over No. 20 Michigan.

“I thought that we came out and played physical, like we ended against Penn State,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “We were really focused on defense. I thought we worked really, really hard to close blocks and get stops and slow them down. That’s the key for us.”

Dominating the majority of the match, the Illini (18-0, 7-0 Big Ten) dropped the third set but made a four-point comeback run in the fourth in front of 2,347 fans.

Illinois took its first lead in that set at 14-13 and never looked back.

“I thought we needed to settle down a little bit, and they settled themselves down and made a run themselves,” Hambly said of his players during the fourth set. “They were saying the right things to each other. I think that’s one of the cool things about the team. Our communication is really at a high level.”

Illinois handed Michigan (14-5, 2-5) its fifth straight loss, as Illinois continues the success of its undefeated season.

The Illini controlled most the game with their defense, tying the season high of 17 blocks, seven of those coming in the second set. The Illini are known to focus on defense.

“Before every game we always talk about being really competitive and the defense is definitely the cornerstone of our team,” redshirt freshman Anna Dorn said. “When we have a strong defense, I feel like everything else falls into place.”

A lot of those blocks came from Dorn and freshman Liz McMahon. Hambly said they are really understanding the block and going in a good direction.

“Early on we weren’t blocking because they are two freshman,” Hambly said. “Now they’re not freshman anymore. With the amount of sets we’ve played … they’re growing up pretty fast.”

The Illini got off to one of their best starts this season, finishing the first set in about 20 minutes and holding Michigan to only .028 hitting.

“We know that they’re a fighting team, just from past experience and we’ve been working to give the first punch in the game and really fight hard,” said senior Michelle Bartsch, who had 20 kills and hit .341. “I think that’s maybe one of the first times we’ve ever punched a team first and it kind of lapsed after that.”

That lapse happened in the third set, which was dominated by the Michigan offense as it hit .355.

“I think our effort and we got a little bit too relaxed, we got a little bit too comfortable playing,” Bartsch said.

“We crushed them the first set and really played well and sometimes we get too comfortable doing that. I think we just need to push harder and work to get better and think about working for the long run.”