Volleyball team pays back Purdue

CHAMPAIGN — No one used the word revenge, but it was clear Saturday night that this Illinois volleyball team well remembered its last match against Purdue.

It’s a memory that stuck. And stung.

“We’ve kind of been ready for this match ever since we played them,” Illini outside hitter Morganne Criswell said.

It showed. Hitting a torrid .444 in the first set and rarely easing up on the accelerator thereafter, No. 25 Illinois swept to a 25-18, 25-18, 25-21 victory against the No. 18 Boilermakers in front of a season-high 3,632 fans at a loud and steamy Huff Hall.

In the process, the Illini avenged a four-set defeat at Purdue on Oct. 11 — a match Criswell & Co. insist was theirs for the taking. The fact that Illinois didn’t has remained a sore point ever since.

“When we played at Purdue a couple months ago, we knew we should have had them,” Illini middle blocker Maddie Mayers said, “and that just fueled our fire  for this match.”

Illinois (14-12, 10-6 Big Ten) emitted plenty of heat with its high-octane attack in this rematch. Redshirt freshman Mayers belted seven kills in 10 swings and hit a career-best .700. Right-side hitter Liz McMahon produced 10 kills in 18 swings en route to a .500 attack percentage. And Criswell notched a match-high 12 kills while hitting .391 in 23 attacks.

Illinois ended up hitting at a .369 clip — no mean feat against the Boilermakers’ traditionally stingy defense — for its second-highest hitting percentage of the season.

“I think we were kind of angered from the last time that we lost to them, so it was just a real intense thing,” Criswell said.

The motivation might have been particularly high, but the result is what Illini fans have come to expect lately. While sending the Boilermakers (16-11, 7-9 Big Ten) to their fourth straight defeat, surging Illinois won its fifth straight — with three of those wins by 3-0 sweeps.

“We talk a lot about fighting, and I think we’ve been fighting a lot in these last matches,” Mayers said.

That’s what UI coach Kevin Hambly is seeing, too, at least since his team rallied from a 2-0 deficit against Michigan on Nov. 6 to pull a five-set victory out of the fire.

“I thought they came out (Saturday night) and really competed their butts off and fought, and that was the biggest thing,” said Hambly, in his fifth season at the Illini helm and his 10th on the coaching staff. “It’s starting to feel like what Illinois volleyball has felt like since I’ve been here; how I want them to play.

“And I can’t say that was that way until halfway through that match at Michigan ... Something clicked in them.”

Now the streaking Illini have four remaining regular season matches to further polish their resume for the NCAA tournament selection committee.
“We were better (Saturday night) than (Friday night), and we were better this weekend than I thought we were last week,” Hambly said. “The key is how long can we ride it out and how long can we stay on it and can we continue to build on it?
 

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