CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois Volleyball started the month of October with a three-set loss at Purdue, and it ended the month with a comeback 3-1 (20-25, 25-19, 36-34, 25-18) win over the Boilers at Huff Hall.
Following the match, Purdue head coach Dave Shondell had nothing but praise for Illinois.
“If you get your lunch handed to you three weeks ago and you got that same team coming into your place, you’re gonna be ready to play,” he said. “If not, you don’t belong in this league.”
On Saturday, Illinois proved that it belonged in this league.
After the midweek win against Indiana, Illinois grabs its second win against an opponent ranked above them in the RPI this season. The win against Purdue (ranked 16th in both the AVCA rankings and the RPI) is also its first against a ranked opponent this season.
Now on a five-game winning streak, the Fighting Illini move to 12-10 (7-5 Big Ten) this year, while Purdue heads back home 14-7 (8-4 Big Ten).
HOW IT HAPPENED
The first set was tight, and dictated by a long exchange of runs. No team led by more than 2 until Purdue went up 12-15. In the opening frame, Purdue hit close to the .251 they average on the year, notching .242. The last time these two teams met, it was Purdue’s quickest win of the year.
There was a sense that this might be a quick outing once again, when at the end of the set, Purdue capped off a 4-1 run highlighted by kills from Raven Colvin, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, and sophomore outside hitter Eva Hudson, who leads the team in points this season. The visitors would take the first set 25-20.
Purdue carried their momentum from the first set into the second, eventually finding themselves up 18-14. Chris Tamas called timeout, needing something to go right for his team. Following the timeout, Tamas’s team took the next three points, forcing Purdue head coach Dave Shondell to call time. Following that timeout, Illinois took four of the next five points, turning the tides after eight points and two timeouts.
Shondell would call another timeout at 21-19, but couldn’t slow down the red-hot Illini. Kills from Nunge and Burbage would fuel the Illini to win the next four points, ending the set on a 6-0 run to win 25-19 and tie the match up.
The Fighting Illini carried their momentum into the third set. At the tail end of a set that had ten ties and three lead changes, Illinois led 24-22. Kills from Hudson and Chloe Chicoine, last week’s Big Ten Freshman of the Week, made it 24-24. A kill from the always-dangerous Raina Terry made it 25-24 Illinois, and the ensuing Vanessa Pan serve caused issues for the Boilermakers, securing set 3 for Illinois 26-24.
The “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd up to this point came from the usual suspects: a Raina Terry or Eva Hudson kill or a Brooke Mosher or Chloe Chicoine serve.
In the fifth set, the crowd reacted most to the Illinois blocks. Seven of the Illini’s 16 blocks in this match came in the fourth frame of the match.
The Fighting Illini started the fourth set on a tear. They would lead it the whole way through, with a pair of Purdue timeouts at 14-8 and 21-17 allowing the trailing Boilermakers to huddle up and re-focus.
Those earlier “oohs” and “ahhs” became claps and cheers towards the end of the set. Four of Illinois’s last five Illinois points were secured via block, with fifth-year senior middle blocker Kennedy Collins at the center of each one.
When asked what contributed to their slower starts in the last three sets of the match, coach Shondell said: “Illinois. Illinois playing well. Illinois serving the ball tough. Illinois’ block. Raina Terry. Kennedy Collins. Bohm, she hurts.”
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The point to take the second set 26-24 shows exactly what Illinois did right throughout the match: great defense and great concentration in these extended rallies. It’s not often that Chloe Chicoine can get three spikes off and walk away with zero points.
Redshirt freshman middle blocker Cari Bohm made her presence be known at the net, tying a career-high in blocks. After the win, she said “We all had personal vendettas after the first Purdue game. We wanted revenge and we got it. It felt good.”
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Good defense leads to good offense.
“No, no, no.” - Dikembe Mutombo
A shower for head coach Tamas and assistant coach Eli Sharping.
- While Raina Terry was the only player in pink with double-digit kills, the Illinois attack was multi-faceted, with Kennedy Collins (9), Kayla Burbage (7), Jessica Nunge (7) and Cari Bohm (6) also providing options on the front foot.
- Redshirt-sophomore Brooke Mosher tallied a career-high 47 assists, also tying a career-high in blocks with six. “[Mosher] is playing two levels higher than what she was when we saw them last time and that makes a tremendous difference on this team. She’s a really good athlete,” Shondell said.
- Illinois’s 15.5 total blocks to Purdue’s 12 means that the Fighting Illini move to 11-3 when leading their opponent in blocks.
- Heading into the match, Purdue was hitting .257. Their .118 on Saturday evening was its lowest percentage hitting the ball this season.
On a run of five straight victories, the Fighting Illini will stay home for their next match against another regional rival in Northwestern.
“I think all that we did was out-team the other team. We all love each other and I think that showed — just how much we love each other — tonight,” said outside hitter Raina Terry.
“[This win] is a big deal. It’s great for the confidence [of the team] and just proves we’re on the right path right now,” Tamas said.
Reflecting on the loss in West Lafayette, he said, “It wasn’t our best match and that was kind of a turning point in the season where it’s like, ‘Guys, we can’t put so much pressure on ourselves to try to get these key victories.’”
If there was a way to measure the energy of a crowd, the pinked-out 2,845 at Huff Hall may have set a season-high on Saturday against Purdue.
“Football bye week and Saturday night,” Tamas listed as the reasons for the big crowd. “Hopefully we’re the hot ticket in town here.”
Tamas and his team hope they’ll be the hot ticket again on Wednesday, November 1 when they host Northwestern (10-11, 4-7 Big Ten). The quest for six straight wins begins at 8 p.m. from Huff Hall, also on Big Ten Network.