Five-set thriller nets Illini top 25 win

Five-set thriller nets Illini top 25 win

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Illinois found itself in multiple five-set matches throughout the 2017 season and ultimately figured out how to close them out. Like the regular season finale against Ohio State that helped make an NCAA tournament bid a no brainer. Then consecutive five-set wins against Hawaii and Washington in the opening two rounds.

That experience came through Friday night against No. 25 Colorado State. Illinois let a 2-0 lead slip away on the Rams’ home court and in front of a volleyball record crowd of 7,745 at Moby Arena, but the Illini’s veteran presence made a difference as they battled back in the fifth set for a 25-16, 25-14, 18-25, 25-27, 15-11 victory.  The win was the second of the day for No. 12 Illinois after sweeping UNC-Wilmington in its opening match of the Colorado State tournament.

“We wanted that environment,” Illinois coach Chris Tamas said. “We wanted this in the preseason so, one, we get used to it for Big Ten play, but also because we wanted quality road wins. This is a big one for us.”

The fifth set was Illinois’ most efficient offensively. Megan Cooney had four kills. Jacqueline Quade finished up her match-high 22-kill performance with three in the final set. Blakye Hranicka had three kills of her own.

All three are returning players from 2017 with experience in big matches.

“It was one of those things where I never saw them waver,” Tamas said. “I never saw them be scared. When we lost set three and four I thought that Colorado State just played a couple good sets on us, but we never looked like we were down and out. We still were fighting pretty tough.”

Cooney and Hranicka joined Quade in double figures with 13 and 11 kills, respectively. It came playing in new positions. An injury to Beth Prince had Cooney moving from opposite to outside hitter and Hranicka sliding over from middle to replace Cooney at opposite.

“It’s a little bit out of necessity right now,” Tamas said. “Beth’s been out for a little bit and we’re cautious with her, but we’re confident that we train them to be good volleyball players and make sure we’re training multiple positions. We pride ourselves on just being good volleyball players. As simple as that sounds, that just means we’re multi-faceted and we’re able to do a lot with our lineup.”

Quade also led Illinois in its win against UNC-Wilmington, finishing with 15 kills in the Illini’s 25-15, 25-22, 25-16 victory. Ali Bastianelli chipped in nine kills and two blocks, and Hranicka had eight kills against the Seahawks.

Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter had 35 assists and eight digs against UNC-Wilmington and directed the Illini’s balanced attack against Colorado State with 46 assists while also contributing to the defense with 15 digs. Morgan O’Brien, settling in as Illinois’ libero, had 37 digs in the two matches combined.

Illinois (2-0) will stay in Colorado today but travel the 33 miles southwest from Fort Collins to Greeley to play Northern Colorado at 8 p.m. The Bears (1-0) swept UNC-Wilmington on Friday.