Live from Huff Hall: Penn State 3, Illinois 2
Penn State fought off four match points, foiling Illinois' bid to knock off the nation's No. 1 team. The Nittany Lions won a titanic battle in the fifth set to pull out a 23-25, 25-18, 25-21, 24-26k, 18-16 win at Huff Hall.
The Illini led 14-10 in the fifth set but Penn State responded with a 5-0 run. Illin managed to tie the score twice after that.
Jocelynn Birks had a match-high 20 kills and a career-high 23 digs for the Illini. Liz McMahon pitched in with 17 kills and Anna Dorn had 11 kills in 22 swings.
The loss dropped Illinois' record to 8-8, 2-4 in the Big Ten.
Penn State, which won its 10th in a row, improved to 16-1, 6-0.
Illinois kept alive its bid to knock off the top-ranked team in the nation, outlasting Penn State 26-24 in Set 4 to send the match to a decisive fifth set.
The Illini received huge contributions from Liz McMahon and Jocelynn Birks in Set 4. McMahon racked up seven kills in 11 swings. With the score tied at 24, McMahon produced two straight kills to end it.
Birks had five kills in 11 swings. Illini libero Jennifer Beltran contributed seven digs.
Illinois dominated early but couldn't hold off a Penn State comeback in Set 3, losing 25-21 to fall behind two sets to one.
The Illini jumped out to a 6-1 lead and twice led by as many as six points, the last time at 10-4.
Still trailing 16-15, the Nittany Lions went on an 8-2 run to jump ahead 23-18. Illinois later managed to twice fend off set point, but Katie Slay finally ended it with a kill.
Illinois committed seven hitting errors and hit .182 in the set. Penn State countered with a .345 attack percentage.
Slay has been nearly unstoppable, delivering 11 kills in 16 swings.
Jocelynn Birks lead the Illini in kills with a match-high 12.
It was a case of too little, too late for the Illini in Set 2. The Nittany Lions won 25-18 to even the match after building leads of 7-3, 11-4, 15-7 and 21-10. At that point, Illinois was in danger of setting a new season low for points scored in a 25-point set.
That dubious mark of 14, set in the season opener against Dayton, is safe. Trailing by 11 points, Illinois went on a 6-0 run to draw within 21-16. But five points was as close as the Illini would get.
Jocelynn Birks had seven kills in the second, raising her total to a match-high 10. She's hitting .391 in 23 swings.
Illinois had no blocks in Set 2, when Penn State hit .405.
Ariel Scott and Katie Slay share the kills lead for the Nittany Lions wiht seven.
Illinois scored the final three points to pull out a 25-23 victory over top-ranked Penn State in Set 1.
There were 15 ties and seven lead changes before the Illini emerged at the end. With the Nittany Lions leading 23-22, Erin Johnson and Annie Luhrsen combined on the Illini's sixth block to tie it. Ali Stark then delivered an ace to put Illinois ahead 24-23, and Jocelynn Birks ended it with her third kill.
Birks has a match-high six digs, leading Illinois to a 12-11 edge.
Illinois outhit Penn State .200-.147. Dorn, Birks and Liz McMahon each have three kills for the Illini.
A big crowd tonight. I'm not the greatest at estimating attendance, but wouldn't be surprised if it's 3,000-plus.
Big reaction after Illinois clinched the Set 1 win against the nation's top-ranked team.
Welcome to our live report from Huff Hall on tonight's Big Ten volleyball match between Illinois and Penn State.
The Illini (8-7, 2-2 Big Ten) are looking to end a two-match losing streak, and to do it, they will need to knock off the nation's top-ranked team. If Illinois can't, it will match the longest losing streak in the tenure of fourth-year UI coach Kevin Hambly. His Illini have lost three in a row only one other time, during the final three matches of the regular season in 2010.
It will be a major accomplishment if Illinois can pull it off. Penn State (15-1, 5-0 Big Ten) appears to be fully back to its 800-pound gorilla persona of 2007-10, when the Nittany Lions won four straight NCAA titles.
The Nittany Lions enter with a nine-match winning streak that began after they were upset by Oregon State on Sept. 8 at a tournament in Chicago.
Look for Penn State to be fired up for tonight's match. Illinois swept last year's two-match series with the Nittany Lions -- the first time that has happened since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1991 -- and has won three of the past four meeting. Before that, the Illini had an all-time record of 6-35 against the Nittany Lions.
The last time Illinois beat a No. 1 team in volleyball? You don't have to go far back. Remember the Illini's NCAA semifinal victory last December in San Antonio? That was against No. 1 Southern California.
After writing a story earlier this week on Hambly's goal of getting the program to the point of averaging 3,000 fans per home match -- you can find that elsewhere at www.illinihq.com -- the Illini drew 2,453 for Friday night's visit to Huff Hall by Ohio State.
The Nittany Lions typically are a strong attraction when they come to Champaign. In 2010, a crowd of 4,141 showed up to watch the Illini face Penn State -- the fifth-largest in program history. Last year, 3,905 watched Illinois defeat the Nittany Lions at Huff Hall -- the program's 10th-largest crowd.
It will be interesting to see how resilient the Illini are after last night's painful defeat against Ohio State. Illinois won the first two sets but could not win another as the Buckeyes charged back in five sets. Too many errors -- 24 hitting miscues and 10 service errors -- by Illinois. Do that again tonight against No. 1 Penn State, and it figures to be a quick night.
All the same, we're looking forward to seeing if Penn State performs up to the level of their ranking and record tonight, and whether Illinois puts up a good fight. Hambly called out his team after Friday night's loss for what he viewed as its lack of fight.
Whatever happens, be sure to check back in. We'll update this report after ever set.
-- Jeff Huth