STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — As if rising to No. 1 in the national polls and remaining the only unbeaten team in the land wasn't impressive enough, Kevin Hambly's Illini turned more heads Saturday night.
A gutty comeback helped the Illini hand four-time defending NCAA champion and eighth-ranked Penn State its first home loss in 69 Big Ten matches, 21-25, 25-21, 23-25, 25-21, 15-12. The latest in a series of five-set nail-biters marked the Illini's second win in State College, Pa. — and first since 1995.
Two freshmen — Liz McMahon (14 kills) and Anna Dorn (an Illinois record-tying 13 block assists) — provided a spark as the Illini rallied in front of more than 5,200 fans at Rec Hall.
"I thought Liz in that second set took over and Anna Dorn took over the match blocking late, but it really a lot of players made big plays throughout the match," Hambly said. "It was just an epic battle."
The outcome kept Illinois (17-0) tied with Nebraska atop the Big Ten standings.
With the score tied at 11 in the fifth set, the Illinois forced three Penn State errors to seal the comeback.
The teams meet again Nov. 11 in Champaign.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how both teams progress throughout the year," Hambly said. "It's a good benchmark to see where we are at as a program."
Colleen Ward led the Illini with 15 kills and Erin Johnson added 11. Setter Annie Luhrsen was solid with 44 assists and 15 digs.
In women's soccer:
Illinois 1, Michigan State 0. In East Lansing, Mich., Marissa Mykines converted a pass from Vanessa DiBernardo and scored the game-winning goal in double overtime.
"A lot of perseverance," UI coach Janet Rayfield said. "For more than 100 minutes we played good soccer, knocked the ball around and had chances. Again, it was one of the games where we were nervous that at any point in time their dangerous duo (Laura Heyboer and Olivia Stander) could make a difference in the game. I'm just happy we finally put one of our chances away."
Sharp play by Illinois goalkeeper Steph Panozzo kept Michigan State (10-4-0 overall, 3-3-0 Big Ten) scoreless.
In overtime, the Illini's Niki Read nearly ended the match with a header at the 97:15 mark, following a cross from Julie Ewing. But Spartans goalie Jill Flietstra dove to her right and blocked the shot out of bounds.
In the next extra session, Mykines came through.
"Vanessa played a great ball, one Marissa could run onto and then all she had to do was put a shot on frame and out of the reach of Flietstra," Rayfield said.
Illinois (9-4-1, 3-2-1) outshot Michigan State 23-7. Panozzo had three saves.
In men's tennis:
Illini ousted. Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich lost in the quarterfinals of the ITA All-American Championships at Tulsa, Okla. Illinois was the only team with two players among the final eight.