Live from Huff Hall: Illinois 3, Northwestern 2

Live from Huff Hall: Illinois 3, Northwestern 2

Illinois never trailed in Set 5 in finishing off Northwestern 20-25, 25-20, 25-14, 17-25, 15-9 Wednesday night at Huff Hall.

The Illini jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the decisive set and later went on a 4-0 run to build its margin to 11-4.

Liz McMahon led the Illnis with 18 kills, hitting .324 in 37 swings. Jocelynn Birks and Ali Stark added 14 and 13 kills, respectively.

The Illini held a 64-58 edge in digs, with Illini libero Jennifer Beltran producing a match-high 23.

It was Illinois' ninth five-set match of the season, with the Illini improving to 4-5 in those matches.

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Illinois is headed to a fifth set for the ninth time this season after dropping Set 4 to Northwestern 25-27.

The Illini trailed the entire set as the Wildcats builts leads of 7-3, 15-8, 18-11 and 23-15.

The Wildcats hit .481 in the set, belting 15 kills in 27 swings.

Savannah Paffer had five kills in seven swings in the set for Northwestern.

Liz McMahon did what she could for the Illini, producing 7 kills in 10 swings.

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Illinois hit .517 in rolling to a 25-14 victory in Set 3 to take a 2-1 lead on the Wildcats.

Liz McMahon and Jocelynn Birks combined for nine of Illinois' 15 kills in the set. It took only 29 swings to notch that kill total, and the Illini did not commit a hitting error.

Trailing 3-2, the Illini took control with a 9-0 run that included two kills and two service aces by Birks.

Illinois built its lead to 18-8 after setter Alexis Viliunas followed a kill with a service ace.

The Illini closed out the set with a 5-1 run sparked by two kills by Ali Stark.

Stark and McMahon each have 10 kills for the match. Stephanie Holthus of Northwestern has a match-high 13 kills.

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Illinois bounced back to win the second set 25-20, clinching the  win with a 6-2 closing run.

Mistake-prone Northwestern had two of its 11 hitting errors and one of its ?? service errors in the set during the final surge.

Illinois, which had no blocks in the first set, came up with three in holding the Wildcats to a .061 attack percentage in the second. The Illini also outdug the Wildcats 17-11 in Set 2 behind libero Jennifer Beltran's eight digs. .

Liz McMahon had four kills in Set 2 and leads Illinois for the match with seven.

Stephanie Holthus had a match-high nine kills for Northwestern.

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Illinois could not slow down a Northwestern attack that hit .476 in losing Set 1 to the Wildcats 25-20.

Led by Stephanie Holthus (7 kills, .583) and Katie Dutchman (5 kills, .417), the Wildcats racked up 20 kills in 42 errorless swings.

The Illini, who never led, hit a respectable .278. Illinois had an ultra-balanced attack with three players belting three kills and two others hitting two.

Illinois, which trailed by as many as five points several times entering the final stages of the set, cut its deficit to 20-18 on consecutive kills by Liz McMahon. But Northwestern responded with five of the last seven points to end the set. Dutchman had one kill and two blocks, including a solo, during the closing run.

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Welcome to our live report for tonight's Big Ten volleyball match between No. 25 Illinois and Northwestern at Huff Hall.

After defeating Michigan State on Saturday in five sets, the Illini (9-9, 3-5) will be looking to win consecutive matches for the first time since late September. Illinois hasn't experienced a winning streak, short though it was, since it defeated Wisconsin on Sept. 23 and beat Indiana on Sept. 28.

The Wildcats (13-6, 2-6) are in Road Warrior mode these days. This will be Northwestern's fifth match in the last seven away from home. The Wildcats have enjoyed success on the road this season, going 5-2 on opponents' courts and 5-0 in neutral-site matches. Last weekend, NU knocked off then-No. 25 Michigan State in four sets, and its other Big Ten victory also was on the road, at Indiana.

Illinois leads the all-time series 48-27 and has dominated recently, winning six of the last seven meetings.

Each team has a setter of note. Madalyn Shalter leads the Big Ten and ranks 10th in the nation in assists per set with 11.67. Illinois counters with the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Alexis Viliunas. Illini coach Kevin Hambly replaced Illini starting setter Annie Luhrsen with Viliunas last Saturday at Michigan State and saw the true freshman guide Illnois to a come-from-behind five-set victory to halt that four-match losing streak. In her collegiate debut, Viliunas produced a double-double (49 assists, 14 digs).

With No. 4 Nebraska headed into Huff Hall on Sunday, tonight's match looms as a virtual must-win for an Illinois team fighting to be considered for an NCAA tournament at-large bid.

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

-- Jeff Huth

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