Volleyball avenges loss
The last time Illinois met Northwestern on the volleyball court, the Illini swept the first two sets.
History partially repeated itself Wednesday night at Huff Hall, with the Illini again surging to a 2-0 lead. This time, however, No. 18 Illinois made sure to finish the job, capturing Set 3 as well to avenge a tough-to-swallow five-set loss to the Wildcats on Oct. 23.
With the 25-18, 25-23, 25-17 Big Ten win -- their seventh in the last eight matches -- the surging Illini improved to 16-13 and assured they will finish the regular season with a winning record. Illinois, which has won six straight home matches, will conclude the regular season at 7 p.m. Saturday against No. 11 Minnesota at Huff Hall.
Combined with Wisconsin's four-set loss to the Gophers on Wednesday night, Illinois also took sole possession of fourth place in the Big Ten at 12-7. The Badgers fell to 11-8.
Led by Jocelynn Birks and Liz McMahon, the Illini hit .357 -- their third highest attack percentage of the season. Outside hitter Birks belted a match-high 16 kills and hit .316 in 38 swings. Right-side hitter McMahon produced 11 kills in 16 attacks and hit .500.
McMahon, a junior, reached 1,000 kills for her Illini career while scoring the first point of the second set.
Meanwhile, the Illini defense won the digs battle, 47-34, while limiting the Wildcats to a .183 hitting percentage. Illinois libero Jennifer Beltran recorded a match-high 20 digs to raise her season total to 468. That moved the senior up two spots into eighth place on the UI's all-time single-season digs list. Beltran already ranks first, second and sixth on that same chart from her previous three seasons.
Middle blocker Anna Dorn led the Illini to a 7.5-7.0 advantage in blocks with four block assists.
Stephanie Holthus led the Wildcats (16-15, 8-11 Big Ten) with 13 kills.