Live from SFC: Illinois 3, Iowa 0

Illinois won the third set to sweep the match 25-19, 25-18, 25-21. The No. 24 Illini halt a four-match losing streak in their Big Ten opener.

A story on the match will be posted later.

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Set 2: Illinois 25, Iowa 18

Hero:  Jocelynn Birks

The Illini outside hitter, who had such a tough time last weekend, heated up in Set 2 with four kills in five swings. Birks has six kills for the match. She had eight apiece in losses to North Carolina and Duke.

Goat: Rachael Bedell
The Iowa senior is still struggling, going 0 for 5 in kill attempts in Set 2, with one error. She's hitting a minus-.062 in 16 swings for the match.

What  I'm thinking:
-- Morganne Criswell is doing OK in her second straight start. The Illini junior outside hitter has six kills in 20 swings.

-- Liz McMahon is thriving in her return to right-side hitter. The junior has a match-high nine kills and is hitting .300.

-- Illinois really hurting Iowa with its middle attack. Dorn and Mayers have nine kills in 15 swings.

-- Kevin Hambly has noted how Illinois will need to greatly improve its attack from where it's been so far this season. He can't complain about his team's perfomance in Set 2: .394 attack percentage.

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Set 1: Illinois 25, Iowa 19

Hero: Liz McMahon

The Illini junior right-side hitter is off to a great start, with six kills in 12 swings. She's hitting .417.

Goat: Rachael Bedell

The Iowa senior is getting plenty of attack opportunities -- she has 11 of her team's 31 swings -- but not doing much with them. With two kills and two hitting errors, Bedell is hitting .000.

What  I'm thinking:
-- When Huff Hall receives its promised upgrade, let's hope there is a videoboard installed. Tonight's match at State Farm Center reminds us how cool the board is for any sporting event.

-- Always fun when the school kids sing the National Anthem. Tonight, it was the grade-schoolers from South Side Elementary.

--  Set 1 was definitely streaky. Illinois had an early 5-0 run, but Iowa shortly thereafter scored six straight points. After scoring six of the seven points, the Illini led 24-16. Then Iowa fought off set point with three straight points.

-- Illinois is getting the job done without points from its block. Iowa outblocking the Illini 3-0.

-- Illinois is getting the middles involved in the attack. Maddie Mayers and Anna Dorn have combined for six kills in 10 swings.

-- Good atmosphere.Good crowd. A and B sections sure look full to me.

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8 minutes before lineup introductions

I'm not great at estimating attendance, but this looks to be a pretty good sized crowd. I heard Kevin Hambly on the radio earlier today say that he'd been told it was shaping up to be maybe 5,000. We'll see. Lot of coupons for two free tickets were distributed around Champaign-Urbana this week. Maybe that will bump up the attendance.

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Welcome to our live report from State Farm Center for the Illini’s volleyball match against Iowa.

Yep, we said State Farm Center. Not Huff Hall. And not Assembly Hall, the name of this facility until State Farm Insurance ponied up lots of money to get naming rights.

Illinois will be playing host to NCAA regional semifinal and final matches at SFC in December, and the NCAA requires a host school to play at least one regular-season match at the regional venue. Consider this a test run for all the UI folks who will be involved in putting on a regional here Dec. 13-14.

This will be the No. 24 Illini’s lone match at SFC during the regular season. All other home matches are at Huff, including Saturday’s 4 p.m. visit by No. 12 Nebraska — a match that will be carried live by the Big Ten Network.

Illinois most recently played a match at SFC in 2009 and drew the largest home crowd in program history: 7,632. I covered that one for The News-Gazette, and the atmosphere was truly electric. Lots of energy in the building. Very loud. And the Illini thrived in that environment, sweeping a Minnesota team that was ranked sixth (Illinois was No. 10).

The size of that crowd was helped, no doubt, by that fact that the match preceded an “Illini Madness” basketball event held to mark the start of practice in that sport. There is no such collaboration tonight, so the crowd is not expected to be of the size in 2009. If it is, or is close to it, the UI marketing people and the Illini volleyball program would be thrilled.

Illinois (4-6) enters this Big Ten opener looking to end a four-match losing streak. If history has anything to do with it, the Illini have to like their prospects. Illinois has defeated Iowa in each of their last 13 meetings, and none of those have gone longer than four sets. Iowa enters 9-3 but has not played nearly as challenging a nonconference schedule at Illinois. Not even close. The Hawkeyes have faced one ranked team, getting swept by No. 25 Iowa State — the same team the Illini swept on Sept. 8 on the Cyclones’ court.

Illinois, meanwhile, has faced seven ranked opponents, going 3-4 in those matches. No wonder the voters in the coaches’ Top 25 aren’t holding the Illini’s losing record against them when filling out their ballots.

We’ll update this report after each set, so be sure to check back in.
 

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