After splitting a pair of matches on Saturday to open up the 2013 season, the Illinois Fighting Illini were able to defeat their second ranked opponent as they pulled off a comeback to beat the #17 Kentucky Wildcats in five sets.
After three tough sets, the Illini found themselves trailing the Wildcats 2-1 as the teams headed into the fourth set.
Illinois and Kentucky were neck and neck the whole fourth set until the Illini got on a roll. After Kentucky took a 12-11 lead, the Fighting Illini rattled off four straight points on three Wildcat errors. Illinois was able to use that little run to win the fourth set, 25-19.
The fifth would play out exactly as the fourth did. Illinois and Kentucky found themselves in a tight one until the Illini scored off of three consecutive Kentucky errors to take a 8-5 lead. Illinois used that run to win the fifth, 15-9, in the same fashion as they had won the fourth.
Sophomore outside hitter Jocelynn Birks was an absolute force to be reckoned with for the Illini as she recorded her second 20-kill match of the year (22 total kills).
Redshirt freshman middle blocker Maddie Mayers put in some good time on the court as she hit .458 with 13 kills and nine blocks (one block shy of a double-double).
Junior outside hitter Liz McMahon struggled offensively on Saturday against the Wildcats. However, she was a dominating force at the net as she recorded her third career double-digit block match with 10.
The win over the Wildcats was the Illini’s final match of the Long Beach State Mizuno Invitational. Illinois was able to beat #18 Florida State and #17 Kentucky, but lost their middle match to Long Beach State.
After the match, Illini head coach Kevin Hambly said:
“This time of year, I want to learn how to compete and learn how to fight and I thought we did that. It’s nice to get two wins and come home 2-1; it would’ve been nice to get three of course, but I think we’re learning a lot about ourselves and a lot about the team. I always say you don’t learn anything about yourself until you’re in a fight, and we were in some fights. One of them we got our butt kicked and the other one we came out on top, so we did what we needed to do.”
Illinois is now 2-1 on the season, and will take their game on the road next weekend for the Iowa State Challenge in Ames, Iowa. The Illini will play two matches against the San Diego Toreros and the Iowa State Cyclones.
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