MINNEAPOLIS — Kevin Hambly figured it would take five sets for No. 3 Illinois and No. 9 Minnesota to settle things Friday night in their Big Ten volleyball opener.
"We expected a battle tonight," the Illini coach said. "We expected five sets."
By now, Illini fans might be expecting a win every time it happens. Illinois improved to 4-0 in five-setters this season with a 20-25, 25-18, 25-22, 20-25, 15-10 win against the Gophers.
"I feel very comfortable (in those situations)," Hambly said. "Once we figured out our defense in the fourth set, I wasn't super nervous."
The Illini (12-0) prevailed in large part due to a major advantage in blocking. Matching its season high, Illinois outblocked the Gophers 16-4. Junior middle blocker Erin Johnson racked up a career-high 10 block assists while also contributing 11 kills in 23 swings.
"I think we relied on (blocking) quite a bit," Hambly said. "We made plays on defense with the block. Erin ... did a great job on defense."
Senior Michelle Bartsch led the Illini in kills with a match-high 23, while fellow outside hitter Colleen Ward had 16.
Ashley Wittman, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, led Minnesota (7-3) with 18 kills but committed 13 hitting errors. Gophers middle blocker Tori Dixon added 13 kills and seven attack errors.
"Both Wittman and Dixon, that was key for us," Hambly said. "That was a great job on defense (against the duo). That's where our focus was. If we don't do that they take it to us because those guys are so good."
In women's soccer:
Ohio State 2, Illinois 1. Despite outshooting the Buckeyes 20-9, the No. 22 Illini failed to capitalize and lost their Big Ten match at Columbus, Ohio.
Illinois (6-3-1, 0-1-1 Big Ten) was held to fewer than two goals for the second time this season. The Illini also led in shots on goal, 8-4.
Ohio State (6-3-1, 1-0-1) broke a 1-1 tie in the 57th minute on a goal by Lauren Granberg, the junior's second of the match.
Illinois' lone goal came unassisted in the 38th minute by forward Jannelle Flaws.
Flaws came close to tying it in the 68th minute with a shot from the top of the box, but a diving Katie Baumgardner deflected the ball wide.