Rally gives Illini new life

Rally gives Illini new life

CHAMPAIGN — In position to make a late-season push for an NCAA tournament bid, Illinois kicked off a four-match homestand by falling flat early against No. 17 Michigan on Wednesday night.

Not exactly the way Coach had drawn it up.

“You never want to be down 0-2,” said Kevin Hambly, who said his team looked “dead to rights.”

Not to mention the UI’s postseason hopes.

“To make that change and see the team absolutely put their hearts out there was great to see,” Hambly said.

By rallying past Michigan 18-25, 19-25, 25-21, 25-15, 15-10 before 2,210 fans at Huff Hall, Illinois (11-12) inched closer to the .500 mark required for NCAA tournament eligibility. The Illini play five of their remaining seven matches at Huff Hall, which was rockin’ by match’s end.

“That’s something we did talk about, protecting our home,” the UI’s Jennifer Beltran said.

The speech didn’t appear to kick in until halfway through Wednesday’s match.

The Illini stormed back thanks to Jocelynn Birks (22 kills), Morganne Criswell (19 kills) and Liz McMahon (15 kills). Beltran had 25 digs, and Alexis Viliunas had 55 assists.

“You saw a whole different Illinois team in the last three sets,” Hambly said. “It was great to see them stay tough and stand up and do their job.”