Live from Huff Hall: Purdue 3, Illinois 2
Illinois fell victim tonight to a Purdue team that continues to rule in five-set matches.
The Boilermakers won their 13th straight five-setter -- a streak that dates back to Oct. 29, 2010 -- 26-24, 20-25, 21-25, 25-20, 15-9.
Purdue hit .368 in the final set to Illinois' .091.
Right-side hitter Liz McMahon led the Illini attack with 22 kills in 44 swings, hitting .273. Jennifer Beltran and Ali Stark had 24 and 20 digs, respectively, for Illinois.
The loss dropped the Illini's record in five-set matches o 4-6.
We're headed to Set 5 after Purdue prevailed 25-20, and that might be bad news for Illinois.
The Boilermakers have won their last 12 five-set matches, including five this season.
Purdue hit .375 in Set 4 in extending the match. Five players had at least three kills for the Boilermakers in the set.
Liz McMahon had six kills in eight swings in the set for Illinois, raising her total to a match-high 19.
Illinois scored four of the final five points to capture Set 3 25-21 and take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Holding a tenuous 21-20 lead, Illinois got some breathing room when Purdue's Valerie Nichol committed a serving error. Liz McMahon followed with a kill to put Illinois ahead 23-20. After a Purdue block again cut the margin to two points, Anna Dorn and Jocelynn Birks combined on an block for the Illini. The set ended with a hitting error by the Boilermakers' Ariel Turner.
Liz McMahon had five kills in 11 swings for Illinois in Set 3, giving her a match-high 13 kills.
UI libero Jennifer Beltran had six more digs, raising her total to a match-high 20.
With Jocelynn Birks on a tear at the end of Set 2, Illinois tied the match at 1-1 with a 25-20 victory.
Birks scored the Illini's final four points -- and five of their last six -- to help her team pull away after Purdue twice drew within two points.
With Illinois leading 21-19, Birks delivered consecutive kills. After Purdue scored to make it 23-20, Birks belted her six kills of the set to create set point, then ended it with a service act.
The redshirt freshman had six kills in the set and has eight for the match.
Jennifer Beltran had eight digs for Illinois in the second set, lifting her total to a match-high 14.
Liz McMahon shares the team lead with Birks in klls with eight.
Illinois wasn't able to take advantage of a set-point opportunity and ended up losing Set 1 26-24.
The Illini led 24-23 after Liz McMahon belted her sixth kill. But it was all Purdue after that as Kierra Jones responded with a kill to tie it, and Illini redshirt freshman Jocelynn Birks followed with a hitting error. Up 25-24, the Boilermakers won it on a kill by Anna Drewry.
Illinois was gulty of nine hitting errors and hit .178 in 45 swings. Purdue limited its hitting errors to four and hit .209.
Illini coach Kevin Hambly went with fifth-year senior Annie Luhrsen as his starting setter for the second straight match. She had 16 assists in Set 1.
Illinois had its middle attack working. Middle blockers Erin Johnson and Anna Dorn combined for seven kills in eight swings.
Welcome to our live report from Huff Hall of the Illini volleyball team's Big Ten match against No. 22 Purdue.
Simply put, an Illini team in a 2-7 tailspin needs to get back on track to salvage any hope of returning to the NCAA tournament. The 2011 national runner-ups enter with a 10-12 record, including 4-8 in the Big Ten.
When these teams met on Sept 29 at Purdue, the Illini lost in five sets. That was the beginning of Illinois' current slide, which includes defeats in each of its last three matches.
Purdue enters 16-7, 7-5 Big Ten but has experienced its share of problems in the past few weeks, too. Before winning two home matches last weekend, the Boilermakers endured a 1-5 stretch that included losses to Iowa and Indiana -- teams currently tied for last place in the conference.
One of the storylines tonight will be Illini coach Kevin Hambly's choice of a starting setter. Annie Luhrsen, who was demoted after Illinois lost its fourth straight match on Oct. 10 at Michigan, played the entire way in the Illini's last match on Sunday at Minnesota. It was the first time that freshman Alexis Viliunas had not seen action at setter for at least part of a match since she replaced Luhrsen on Oct. 13. When asked Tuesday who would be the Illini's starting setter tonight, Hambly declined to say, indicating that he did not want Purdue to know until the match started.
Tonight's a chance for Illini fans to see one of the Big Ten's best -- and for that matter, one of the nation's best -- players in Ariel Turner. The 2011 Big Ten Player of the Year ranks third in the Big Ten in kills per set and points per set. In the team's previous meeting, Turner came up big in the decisive fifth set, pounding six kills in a 15-7 Boilermaker win. The senior outside hitter finished a match-high 25 kills in 55 swings and hit .364. Illinois needs to make it tougher for Turner to score if it's to win tonight.
We'll update this report after every set so be sure to check back in.
-- Jeff Huth