LIVE! Michigan State at Huff Hall

LIVE! Michigan State at Huff Hall

Illinois wins the fourth set to clinch the match 25-19, 21-25, 25-17, 25-19.

With the win, the Illini climb back to .500 with a 12-12 record. It's the first time they've been even for the season since they were 4-4;

Jocelynn Birks had a match-high 21 kills for Illinois, while Liz McMahon contributed 15 kills and hit .367.

Check back for a full report on the match, which will be posted later

****

Set 3: Illinois 25, Michigan State 17

Hero:  Jocelynn Birks

The Illiini outside hitter is back on fire, belting eight kills in 14 swings in this set. For the match, Birks has 17 kills and is hitting .289.

Goat:  Chloe Reinig

The MSU freshman outside hitter committed four errors in 11 swing and produced one kill.

What I'm thinking:

-- Illini one set away from returning to the elusive .500 mark for the season. It's a quest they've been on since falling to 4-5.

-- Michigan State has seven serving errors and one ace. Is this really the team that entering leading the Big Ten in aces per set?

-- We said it earlier, but Illini need to find a way to get Liz McMahon more swings. She's 9 of 18 and hitting .444.

-- We talked about Illini struggling on sideouts in Set 2. This time it was MSU's turn: an even worse 40 percent.


Set 2: Michigan State 25, Illinois 21

Hero:  Allyssah Fitterer

The Spartans freshman middle blocker continues to impress. She had four kills in six swings along with two block assists in Set 2. For the match, Fitterer is hitting .545 in 11 swings.

Goat:  Illini hitters.


Finding the going much tougher after a dominant performance in Set 1. In this set, Illinois hit .118.

What I'm thinking:

-- Illini extremely flat to open Set 2, falling behind 11-2 and 12-3. No carryover from Set 1 win.

-- Illini libero Jennifer Beltran got a rare kill in this set. How rare? First of the season and eighth of senior's career.

-- Illini sided out at only 51 percent rate. That won't get it done.

-- Illini freshman middle blocker Katie Stadick entered match in this set with Illini trailing 10-2. She contributed a kill and a block assist.

***

Set 1: Illinois 25, Michigan State 19

Hero:  Jocelynn Birks

The Illini outside hitter led the way in Set 1, belting seven kills and hitting .500 in 12 swings.

Goat: Lauren Wicinski

One of the Big Ten's best attackers had plenty of opportunities (11 swings) but produced merely three kills and committed two errors. Added up to a un-Wicinski-like .091 attack percentage.

What I'm thinking:

-- Michigan State entered as the Big Ten leader in aces per set, but the Illini have yet to allow even one. In fact, thanks to Ali Starks (two aces) and Alexis Viliunas (one), Illinois lead 3-0 in this category.

-- Another big crowd tonight at Huff Hall. The sub-.500 record has not diminished interest in a program that is two years removed from an appearance in the NCAA title match.

-- Illini have yet to produce a block. Going to be tough to win this match if that doesn't change.

-- MSU freshman middle blocker Allyssah Fitterer has been impressive. Three kills in five swings and two block assists.

-- Illini would do well to try to feed more sets to Liz McMahon. The junior right-side hitter has four kills in six swings.

****

Welcome to our live report from Huff Hall on tonight’s Big Ten volleyball match between the Illini and No. 13 Michigan State.

With a victory, Illinois (11-12, 7-6 Big Ten) would climb back to .500 for the first time since they were 4-4 following a loss to Texas on Sept. 14. The Illini will need to finish the regular season at  least .500 in order to be eligible for the NCAA tournament.

The Spartans (19-6, 8-5) are coming off a four-set victory Friday night at Northwestern in which they hit .357 and outblocked the Wildcats 11-3. It was just the second victory in the past seven matches for Michigan State, which had sharply faded after opening the Big Ten race with a 6-0 record.

It was a historic night for libero Kori Moster, who racked up 24 digs to become MSU’s all-time leader in that category. With 1,492 career digs, the Spartans junior broke the program record held by Veronica Morales (1994-97). Moster enters tonight as the Big Ten leader in digs per set (4.67). On the other side of the net, Illini libero and school digs career leader Jennifer Beltran ranks fourth (4.12).

The last time these teams met on Oct. 4 at East Lansing, Mich. MSU rolled to a three-set sweep behind a potent offense that hit .439. That’s by far the highest attack percentage against Illinois this season. The next highest is .318 by Nebraska.

The Spartans’ most dangerous offensive weapon is outside hitter Lauren Wicinski. The senior from Geneva, Ill., belted 17 kills and hit .326 in the win at Northwestern. She ranks third in the Big Ten in kills per set (4.35).

Despite its recent slump, this is a dangerous MSU team that’s usually strong in virtually all phases of the game. Of the seven primary statistical categories, the Spartans rank among the Big Ten’s top four in five of them and are fifth in another.

Illinois’ serve-receive game, which has been erratic this season, figures to get a stern test tonight. MSU ranks first in the Big Ten in service aces per set (1.58).

The Spartans also rank fourth in blocks. It’s easy to understand, then, why Michigan State is holding opponents to a .166 hitting percentage — third best in the conference.

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

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