Live from Huff: Illinois 3, Ohio State 1
Illinois wins Set 4 to clinch the match 15-25, 25-15, 25-22, 25-20
Check back later for our story on the match.
Set 3: Illinois 25, Ohio State 22
Heroes: Liz McMahon and Morganne Criswell
Tough to choose between the two Illini outside hitters, so we won't. McMahon racked up seven kills in 11 swings in Set 3; Criswell six kills in nine swings.
Goat: Taylor Sandbothe
The freshman middle blocker wasn't much help in Set 3 for Ohio State. She had two errors in six swings, with one kill. No blocks, either.
What I'm thinking:
-- Modest turnout today by the Spike Squad student group. Maybe Sunday matches are a tough draw after a night of partying? Just asking the question.
-- Sometimes the final point can be the toughest to score. Illinois had match point at 24-18, but Ohio State ripped off four points in a row before Morganne Criswell ended Set 3 with a missile shot.
-- Illini attack is gaining momentum with each set; Kevin Hambly's team hit a torrid 441 in Set 3.
-- Illini outside hitter Jocelynn Birks should finish with a double-double; she's at eight kills and 11 digs.
Set 2: Illinois 25, Ohio State 15
Hero: Liz McMahon
After a slow start (along with the rest of her team), the Illini right-side hitter is heating up. McMahon had five kills in nine swings in Set 2 and also contributed two blocks, including one solo.
Goat: Kaitlyn Leary
Our Set 1 Hero found it rough going in Set 2. The senior outside hitter was limited to three kills in 13 swings and had two hitting errors.
What I'm thinking:
-- Complete reversal by the Illini, who looked as good in Set 2 as they looked bad in Set 1. Will they carry momentum into the rest of the match or be on a roller coaster? We'll see
-- The same could be said of Ohio State, which hit .094 in Set 2 after scoring at a .278 rate in the first set.
-- This is a young Ohio State team. Coach Geoff Carlston opened match with two freshmen and two sophomores in his rotation.
-- Freshman Maddie Mayers has been productive out of the middle for Illinois. So far she is 3 for 3 on kill attempts to go with three block assists.
Set 1: Ohio State 25, Illinois 15
Hero: Kaitlyn Leary
The Ohio State outside hitter is showing why she leads the Big Ten in kills and ranks amlong the nation's leaders. The Buckeyes senior had eight kills in 13 swings and is hitting a scalding .462.
Have to give this one to the whole team. The energy and the execution both are lacking so far.
What I'm thinking:
-- Great to see so many fans wearing pink for today's breast cancer awareness match. There was a moment of silence before the player introductions for Jennifer Smith, who spoke at this event a year ago and was active in publicly sharing her story about living positively in spite of the disease. The Champaign resident died in September after a long battle with breast cancer.
-- Spotted in the crowd: Oncologist Patricia Johnson, who through Carle Clinic and later the Mills Breast Cancer Institute treated countless cancer patients during a long career (my wife included; I also was a patient of her's for another type of cancer). Johnson has cut back on her work schedule as part of a semi-retirement, but is still treating patients at one of Carle's area clinics. A great doctor. A wonderful person.
-- Also spotted in the crowd: UI athletic director Mike Thomas and UI president Robert Easter.
-- Illini libero Jennifer Beltran was honored before the match for becoming the program's career digs leader last weekend.
-- Illini looked exceedingly flat in Set 1. Wonder if it's a carryover from the disappointing five-set loss Friday night to No. 4 Penn State.
Welcome to our live report from Huff Hall for today's Big Ten volleyball match between the Illini and No. 17 Ohio State.
Illinois (7-10, 3-4 Big Ten) will try to salvage a weekend split after losing Friday night in a five-set battle with No. 4 Penn State. The Illini won two of the first three sets against the Nittany Lions but couldn't close out what would have been their most significant victory of the season.
Now Illinois faces a rapidly fading Ohio State team that figures to be desperate to get back on track. The Buckeyes (14-5, 2-5 Big Ten) are in the throes of a 1-5 slump, with the one victory coming against a last-place Indiana team that has yet to win a conference match.
The upcoming schedule makes today's match that much more important for Ohio State. Its next three matches are at Penn State, against Nebraska and at Michigan State. All three enter the day among the top four teams in the Big Ten standings.
Meanwhile, Illinois has plenty of motivation, too. A loss would drop the Illini four games below .500 for the season, which would put extraordinary pressure on Kevin Hambly's team in regard to its NCAA tournament prospects. To be eligible for an at-large berth, a team must finish the regular season with at least a .500 record. And we stress the word eligible. No assurances, even for an Illini team that has played the nation's toughest schedule, according to the NCAA's most recent Rating Percentage Index (RPI).
One thing we'll be looking for today is whether Illini outside hitter Morganne Criswell can follow up her career-best performance on Friday with another strong outing. The junior belted 21 kills and hit .400 in 40 swings against Penn State. With Jocelynn Birks and Liz McMahon typically Illinois' top scorers, Criswell isn't usually the go-to hitter for Illinois, but she proved Friday she can shoulder that role. But can she be more consistent than she has been? If Criswell can, it would greatly bolster Illinois' chances to get on the kind of roll they need to in order to get back to .500 -- and beyond.
A big focus of the Illlini block today will be on senior Kaitlyn Leary. The Buckeyes outside hitter leads the Big Ten and entered the week fourth nationally in kills per set. Leary currently stands at 4.96. On Wednesday at Northwestern, Leary recorded her ninth double-double of the season (22 kills, 11 digs)
Senior teammate Julianne Mandolfo racked up 25 digs in that match, her most as a Buckeye since transferring from Creighton following her sophomore year. Mandolfo was the Missouri Valley Conference Libero of the Year in 2011.
Today's match is the Illini's annual breast cancer awareness event. Illini players will wear pink jerseys that previously were auctioned off. The good cause raised nearly $5,000 for the Mills Breast Cancer Institute in Urbana.
We'll update this report after each set so be sure to check back in.