Record's on rise for volleyball team
CHAMPAIGN — The victory that put the Illinois volleyball team back above .500 did not come easily Friday night.
An Indiana team with one Big Ten win but no lack of fight saw to that.
The No. 25 Illini fended off the determined Hoosiers 28-26, 25-18, 25-22 at Huff Hall to improve to 13-12 (9-6 Big Ten). Illinois last had a winning record at 4-3 in mid-September.
The Illini relied on a balanced attack to defeat Indiana (9-17, 1-14 Big Ten) for the second time this season. Right-side hitter Liz McMahon and outside hitter Morganne Criswell each had 13 kills to share the match high. Outside hitter Jocelynn Birks added 12 kills. Criswell hit .385 in 26 swings.
It was apparent from the beginning that Illinois would have a battle on its hands. There were 21 ties and 12 lead changes in Set 1, and the Illini twice were forced to fend off set points by the Hoosiers.
In a third set with 14 ties and six lead changes, Illinois trailed 21-19 before rallying with five straight points to take command.
Illinois outhit the Hoosiers, who were guilty of 25 attack errors, .281-.110. The Illini entered with a .206 attack percentage for the season, but this was their third straight strong offensive performance. Kevin Hambly’s team had hit .274 and .271 in wins against Michigan and Michigan State, respectively.
Middle blocker Anna Dorn produced five block assists to lead the Illini to an 8-6 edge in blocks. UI setter Alexis Viliunas finished with a match-high 14 digs and, combined with 33 assists, notched her 13th double-double of the season.
Champaign native and Centennial High School graduate Morgan Leach, who entered as the Hoosiers’ leader in kills, was limited to seven kills
and committed five errors in 19 swings.
In men’s cross-country:
Toepfer headed to nationals. Illini graduate student Jannis Toepfer qualified for the NCAA Championships for the second straight year by placing third at the Midwest Regional Championships at Ames, Iowa.
The native of Bochum, Germany, completed the 10-kilometer race in 30 minutes, 31 seconds, finishing within three seconds of winner Chris O’Hare of Tulsa. It was the highest regional finish by an Illini since Trent Hoerr won the individual title in 2007.
“I think it was a great day for Jannis,” UI coach Jake Stewart said. “You look at the top three guys and they all had an opportunity to win, and Jannis was right in the mix.
“To be in a position to win this region says a lot about where he’s at with his running, and he’s certainly capable of following up and doing that next week at the NCAA meet.”
Illini redshirt sophomore Ian Barnett placed 28th, missing All-Region honors by three spots. Barnett ran a personal-best 31:07, cutting 35 seconds off his previous fastest 10K time.
Illinois finished seventh in the 29-team field.
“As a team, we’re disappointed,” Stewart said. “Seventh place wasn’t the goal, and we were certainly capable of finishing higher than that. ... We let some things get away from us over the last 2,000 meters. We have to find the consistency to be the program that we want to be.”
In women’s cross-country:
Schneider makes breakthrough. Illini redshirt sophomore Alyssa Schneider finished fifth at the Midwest Regional Championships in Ames, Iowa, to advance to the NCAA Championships for the first time.
The Bartlett native ran the fastest 6K time of her career, cutting 31 seconds off her previous best for a 20:25 clocking. The time also was the fourth fastest for a 6K race in program history.
“I’m really happy and excited for Alyssa,” UI coach Scott Jones said. “She ran a smart and tenacious race. She put herself in a great position and then really finished strongly in the last third of the race.”
Schneider’s finish was the highest by an Illini at regionals since Angela Bizzarri won the event in 2009.
Sophomore Amanda Fox was the Illini’s No. 2 finisher, placing 38th in a 6K personal-best 21:25.
Illinois placed eighth in the 30-team field.
“I thought as a team it was our best race of the year,” said Jones, whose squad was coming off a ninth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships. “We responded well to the disappointment of the Big Ten meet.
“We’ve done a great job in practice the past two weeks and came to the regional meet with a purpose. We raced really well, and I was really pleased with our execution. We have girls with NCAA talent, and now I think we can start to believe in the reality of making that happen.”