By Jen Armson-Dyer
Illinois Remains Unbeaten
Something had to give as No. 1 Illinois and No. 12 Purdue met as the only two undefeated teams remaining in the country. In front of a sold-out crowd of 4,261 fans – the second largest volleyball crowd in Huff Hall history - the Fighting Illini came out on top in four sets (26-24, 25-20, 23-25, 25-23). Senior outside hitter Michelle Bartsch recorded a double-double with 15 kills and 15 digs as senior outside hitter Colleen Ward also reached double-digits in both categories, with 14 kills and 17 digs. Sophomore libero Jennifer Beltran topped the defense with 26 digs as the trio of redshirt freshman middle hitter Anna Dorn, junior middle hitter Erin Johnson and freshman outside hitter Liz Mc Mahon all tallied five blocks. For Purdue, junior outside hitter Ariel Turner racked up 20 kills and 12 digs. "For people to believe that this sport has value is huge," Illini head coach Kevin Hambly said. " It's exciting because I feel like we have a good product here and these kids are working their hearts out. The staff is working hard to put out a good product and I hope people had fun tonight." Added junior setter Annie Luhrsen (44 assists, eight digs, three blocks) about the crowd: "It's like having a seventh person out on the court. It gives us an advantage in a lot of ways and it's such a positive atmosphere. Volleyball is a game of energy and it's all about who has more of it. (The crowd) helps us win and keep moving forward. It really made a difference tonight."
Nebraska Sweeps Michigan
The seventh-ranked Huskers finished off their first Big Ten road weekend with a sweep of No. 17 Michigan (25-27, 26-24, 25-16) Saturday night. Sophomore opposite Morgan Broekhuis led Nebraska with 13 kills as senior middle hitter Brooke Delano posted nine kills on .389 hitting. Freshman libero Lara Dykstra led the defense with 12 kills and sophomore middle hitter Hayley Thramer collected six blocks, including assisting on five of Nebraska’s 10.5 team blocks. "This is a great win for us," Delano told the Lincoln Star-Journal. "This is our first back-to-back Big Ten weekend and Michigan was a big challenge for us." Nebraska also survived Michigan State Friday night in five sets (27-25, 16-25, 21-25, 25-17, 16-14).
Texas Rebounds To Defeat Iowa State
After falling Wednesday night at Oklahoma, the eighth-ranked Longhorns regrouped to capture a five-set (25-26, 14-25, 25-20, 21-25, 15-8) road win over the 16th-ranked Cyclones in Ames. Iowa native and freshman outside hitter Haley Eckerman connected for a match- and career-high 21 kills as sophomore opposite Bailey Webster pounded a personal-best 16 kills on .593 hitting (16-0-27). Senior libero Sydney Yogi picked up 19 digs and senior middle hitter Rachael Adams led the team with six blocks. "She (Eckerman) is tremendous," Iowa State head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch noted. "She is one of the best athletes in the country. Sometimes when you come home it can be tough to play in front of your home crowd. I did not know how she would transition right away but she has different angles she can hit and she is a great player."
Minnesota Falls To Ohio State, Penn State
The Golden Gophers had a tough road trip east as they were handed a pair of sweeps at the hands of No. 24 Ohio State (23-25, 20-25, 26-28) and No. 9 Penn State (15-25, 24-26, 15-25). Junior outside hitter Mari Hole led the Buckeyes with 16 kills on .467 hitting and 11 digs in the win as junior middle hitter Mariah Booth posted nine kills on .500 hitting (9-2-14). For Minnesota, Ashley Wittman led the squad with 18 kills. The following night at Penn State, sophomore Ariel Scott led the Nittany Lions with 14 kills and sophomore middle hitter Katie Slay connected on nine of her 12 attacks to hit .667 as sophomore Maddie Martin led the team with 10 digs. Penn State outblocked Minnesota 14.5 to 4.0, led by Slay with seven and Scott and freshman Nia Grant with six apiece. Wittman again led Minnesota with 14 kills. “I didn’t expect this right now,” Minnesota interim head coach Laura Bush said of the sweep to the Minnesota Daily. “I think I expected this earlier in the season. I was really disappointed Friday night. (Saturday) we were just a little off in every area of the game, which made us look way off as a team.”
Wisconsin Tops Ohio State
Coming off its huge win over Minnesota Friday night, the Buckeyes faltered on Sunday, falling to Wisconsin in four (16-25, 20-25, 25-21, 20-25). It’s the first win for Wisconsin over Ohio State since 2009. Freshman outside hitter Crystal Graff led the Badgers with 14 kills as junior middle hitter Alexis Mitchell and sophomore opposite Julie Mikaelsen added in 12 and 11 kills, respectively. Four Wisconsin players reached double-digit digs, led by sophomore libero Annemarie Hickey with 22. Junior outside hitter Emily Danks led Ohio State with 14 kills in the loss. Wisconsin outhit Ohio State .292-.171 for the match while the Buckeyes dominated the blocking battle, 11.0-5.0. “Our blocks weren’t as high as theirs but we had some people that got some good blocks,” said Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite. “Just (getting) touches on the ball at the block slowed things down and we were able to transition on that.”
UC Riverside Halts Long Beach State
The Highlanders halted their 15-match losing streak to the 49ers with a five-set victory (16-25, 25-23, 25-16, 18-25, 15-13) Saturday in Riverside, Calif. The win also snaps a 20-match winless streak in Big West play for UC Riverside, as its last league win was Nov. 6, 2009. Junior outside hitter Amanda Vialpando pounded 20 kills as junior outside hitter Shelby LeDuff added in 17 and junior outside hitter Bianca Endersby posted 12. Four players reached double-digit digs, led by senior Katie Meyers with 18. Haleigh Hampton led Long Beach State with 13 kills on .478 hitting with seven blocks.
Ball State Has Big Weekend
The Cardinals picked up two big wins at home this weekend with victories over Northern Illinois (25-21, 19-25, 11-25, 25-23, 15-9) and Western Michigan (25-21, 25-19, 200-25, 25-19) to take the lead atop the MAC West standings. Against the Huskies, Ball State came back from a 20-15 fourth-game deficit to take down the conference preseason favorite. Whitney Heeres and Jennifer Boyd pounded 18 and 12 kills, respectively, in the win, with Boyd’s coming on .478 hitting (12-1-23). The following night, Ball State pushed its home-court winning streak to 20 matches – the fifth-longest active streak in the nation – led by Kara Bates with 11 kills. Ball State also outblocked Western Michigan 12.0-4.0. "We turned in another great team effort," said Ball State head coach Steve Shondell. "It was great to go into the halftime locker room up two games, but we knew Western Michigan would come out very focused and intense in game three and they did. We had trouble matching their intensity in the third game, and they actually got us down at the start of game four. However, we were able to get our game back together and put pressure on them with our serve. We played maybe as well as we have all year from start to finish. It was really a great team victory today."
Boston College Downs Virginia
The Eagles defeated the Cavaliers in four sets (25-18, 22-25, 25-19, 25-20) Sunday afternoon, marking the first time since 2007 that Boston College has swept conference play in one weekend. The Eagles also defeated Virginia Tech on Friday night in three. Freshman outside hitter Courtney Castle led BC with 18 kills, 15 digs and four blocks as junior middle hitter Krystle Higgins and sophomore Melisa McTighe recorded 11 and 10 kills, respectively, a career-high for McTighe. Senior libero Brennan Clark led the defense with 23 digs.