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Illinois falls in Final Four to Nebraska

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An incredible season comes to an end.

Twitter: @NCAAVolleyball

Did you have a heart attack?

No. 3 Illinois fell to No. 7 Nebraska in five sets in the Final Four at the Target Center in Minneapolis on Thursday night.

Illinois (32-4) won the first two sets, but dropped the next two, forcing a 15-point fifth set that the Cornhuskers won 15-11. The fifth set was tied at five, due to three Illinois services errors in a row, and the teams were trading points for a while until the Orange and Blue took their first lead at 7-6. The Illini tied it up at 12, but an overturned call gave the Huskers a 13-11 lead.

Illinois overcame a shaky start in the first set, riding junior Jacqueline Quade’s nine kills to a 25-22 victory. As has been the case throughout the NCAA Tournament, Quade kept the Illini afloat early, recording six kills before Illinois entered the media timeout trailing 15-14.

The Illini finally took a lead at 18-16 before the Cornhuskers (29-6) went on a four-point run, highlighted by Lexi Sun’s kill on a lengthy volley. But Illinois turned it on after Tamas called a timeout, taking five of the set’s final six points in the Huskers’ first loss in their last 23 sets.

Illinois carried its first-set run over to the second set, taking the first six points in a 25-16 victory. Nebraska’s hitting errors marred a chance of a comeback, but Jordyn Poulter’s pair of service aces and a handful of Quade kills didn’t help the cause.

“Our services have been great, our passing is great,” Poulter said in a TV interview after the second set.

Here’s that full in-game player interview.

The third set was much more competitive than Illinois’ early rout in the second, with Nebraska holding a one- or two-point lead early on. Tied at nine, Nebraska scored four in a row, forcing Tamas to call another timeout with Illinois down 13-9.

Out of the timeout, Illinois scored a pair, but Nebraska opened up its lead to a commanding 18-13 advantage. But after another Tamas timeout, the Illini mounted a comeback at 21-19 behind kills from Megan Cooney and Ashlyn Fleming.

Then, Illinois had us on the edge of our seats, roaring back and taking a 23-22 lead, but Nebraska won the final three points, with the set ending on an Illinois return error.

Quade recorded her 20th kill on the night early in the fourth set as Illinois jumped ahead 4-2. The fourth set, however, was full of attack errors from both sides and went to a timeout at 15-14 following Quade’s attack error. The Illini couldn’t do enough, though, in the fourth as they fell 25-20.

Illinois has dropped five total sets in the NCAA Tournament: one in the second round to Louisville, one in the Elite 8 to Wisconsin and three versus Nebraska.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Poulter’s Kill: Illinois was shaky early on in the first set, and had the potential of falling behind by three at the media timeout. A lengthy volley ended in Big Ten Setter of the Year Jordyn Poulter recording a kill, pulling the Illini within one and propelling them to a first-set win.

GIFS OF THE MATCH

How we all feel:

Shoutout to the Fighting Illini Athletic Band and all the Illinois fans who donned the Orange and Blue in Minneapolis. The official attendance for the Final Four was 17,808 at Target Center.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Illinois’ Beth Prince had some fun with her teammates before Thursday’s match in the starting lineup introduction video. It’s well worth your 35 seconds to hear about the team’s little golden retriever, libero Morgan O’Brien.

SOUND SMART

I said it on the Oskee Talk podcast on Wednesday, but Illinois definitely needed to cut down on service errors once it entered the Final Four.

And the Illini did just that. Illinois’ first service error of the match didn’t come until the middle of the third set. At that point, Nebraska had eight. Not bad.

Illinois ended with 10, and the service errors were issues later on in the match.

The Other Semifinal...

In a matchup between two national seeds, No. 1 Stanford came out on top in straight sets over No. 4 BYU.

Stanford cruised by the Cougars, taking the first two sets 25-15. BYU — the only team to upend the 33-1 Cardinal this season — put up a fight throughout the third set, but it was not enough in a 25-17 loss.

UP NEXT

Next season. This team will be back. Mark our words.

For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!