MINNEAPOLIS, Min. — With two games left in the season, Illinois had a lot to play for. The first task at hand was to earn a win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers (receiving votes in the AVCA poll) on Friday if they wanted to be considered for one of the 32 at-large tournament bids.
The Fighting Illini were on a hot streak rolling into Minneapolis, having won nine of their last 11 games, with the two losses being to No. 1 Nebraska and (then) No. 2 Wisconsin.
Minnesota was hot, too. They had won three straight heading into the match and made sure to keep their golden times coming, making quick work of the visitors by winning 3-0 (25-20, 25-21, 25-17).
HOW IT HAPPENED
Minnesota started the match how every head coach would like their team to. A 5-0 run to start the match made it hard for Illinois, having to play catchup from first serve. Minnesota would never trail in the first frame, only allowing Illinois to tie it at 17-17 before finishing the job.
The second set was tight, but not for the reasons that one might think. Both teams had trouble serving the ball with much effectiveness. There was just one service ace in the set, with unfortunately timed service and attack errors holding the Fighting Illini back from building on what little lead they could manage.
Illinois’ 21 attack errors to Minnesota’s 11 held them back. Whether it was hitting the ball out while trying to hit blockers’ fingers or getting blocked, Minnesota had its way over the net.
Minnesota had a 64.4% side out percentage, which means that they scored on 64.4% of the points in which they received the serve. Illinois, in comparison, had a SO% of 50%.
Illinois’s largest lead of the evening would come at 8-5 in the third set, but it was followed by a 13-4 Minnesota run. The Golden Gophers never looked back and would hand Illinois their seventh three-set loss of the year.
Terry led the way for Illinois offensively with 18 kills, while Caroline Barnes’ 22 digs and Cari Bohm’s 5 blocks highlighted the defensive effort.
The win is Minnesota’s ninth straight against Illinois.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Make no mistake about it. Despite the 3-0 scoreline, Illinois never quit.
After this loss, Illinois’ tourney hopes are up in the air.
Illinois is still ranked very low in the NCAA’s RPI Rankings at 85th, and a win against 43rd Minnesota would have been great for their resume.
There are arguments for and against, as always. Illinois has quality wins but also has a few bad losses. Illinois is 9-3 in their last 12, but started the season 7-10. Illinois climbed as high as fifth in the Big Ten, which is historically a good spot to be to earn a tournament berth, but can now finish no higher than sixth.
This loss will be a tough pill to swallow, but Illinois has no time to dwell on the past. They’ll travel to Evanston to take on the Northwestern Wildcats for the final game of the season. Whether it will be Kennedy Collins, Jessica Nunge and Vanessa Pan’s last game of their collegiate careers will be up to the selection committee to decide.
First serve from Welsh-Ryan Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game can be streamed on Big Ten Plus.