CHAMPAIGN – Never has Illinois delivered a more potent one-two punch this season.
There was Tracey Marshall, pounding out a season-high 24 kills. And there was Cristy Chapman, shattering her previous career high by eight en route to 22 kills.
But in this Big Ten Conference match, much more than a dynamic duo was needed to keep pace with balanced Michigan. With five different Wolverines attaining double figures in kills, the visitors fended off the 25th-ranked Illini for a 15-12, 15-13, 15-13 victory Saturday night at Huff Hall.
"This is a difficult loss for us," coach Don Hardin said after his Illini fell to 11-5 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten.
Difficult because Illinois had counted on successfully defending its home court against Michigan, a team that – like the UI – finished in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten last season. Instead, the surprising Wolverines now are 5-1 in the league race and 12-5 for the season.
"This is huge," said coach Greg Giovanazzi, whose Wolverines had lost 3-0 one night earlier at No. 10 Wisconsin. "We split at the two places we feel are the hardest to play at in the Big Ten."
The previous three times Illinois and Michigan squared off, each match went the maximum five games. And when the Illini bolted out to an 8-0 lead in Game 2, another marathon night appeared in store.
"We played probably the best volleyball I've seen us play," Hardin said of that surge.
Just as suddenly, however, the momentum was all Michigan's as Illinois had no defensive answer for Karen Chase. With the junior outside hitter accounting for six points, the Wolverines went on a stunning 12-1 run to take a 12-9 lead.
"She killed us on the outside," Hardin said. "We got stuck in one rotation and couldn't get out of it."
When the Illini did, they mounted a comeback to retake the lead at 13-12. But it was short-lived as Michigan scored the final three points – two on UI errors – to win the game.
By then, Marshall already had 21 kills and Chapman 17. Their combined kill total of 46 by match's end was one more than Marshall and Mary Coleman had totaled against Michigan State on Sept. 28.
Game 3 was another tug-of-war, with five ties. At 13-13, Jane Stevens delivered the last of her team-high 19 kills to put Michigan ahead for good.
The Wolverines finished with a .371 attack percentage. Only No. 2 Long Beach State and Wisconsin have hit for a higher average against Illinois this year.