Champaign, Ill. - The No. 22 Illinois volleyball team took a tough 3-set loss this evening in Ann Arbor, falling 3-0 (25-16, 25-19, 26-24) to the University of Michigan. It marks the fourth-straight loss for the Illini, the longest streak since November of 2007. The Wolverines snapped their 3-match skid, improving to 15-5 (3-4 Big Ten), while the Illini fall to 8-9 (2-5 Big Ten).
Redshirt freshman Jocelynn Birks led the Illini with 20 kills in the match, exploding for 14 in the third set, while adding seven digs and two blocks. This marks the seventh time this season that Birks has notched 20-or-more kills, a feat topped by just 10 former Illini. The season record is 19, set by Erin Borske in 1995, while volunteer coach Laura DeBruler holds the career record, with 36 from 2007-09.
Erin Johnson recorded five kills and three blocks, and Ali Stark and Liz McMahon each had four kills. Jennifer Beltran led the back row with 17 digs, followed closely by Stark with 13, and Annie Luhrsen put up 38 assists.
The Wolverines distributed their offense evenly among Jennifer Cross, Lexi Erwin and Claire McElheny, who recorded 14, 12 and 11 kills, respectively. Lexi Dannemiller had a double-double with 39 assists and 10 digs, and Ally Sabol put up 17 digs. Cross and Krystalyn Goode manned the net, each stuffing five block assists, with an additional two block solos for Cross.
Michigan out-hit the Illini .304-.188 and, for the rare match, the Illini trailed 10-6 in blocks. Additionally, the Illini served up 10 errors as compared to just four by Michigan.
Jocelynn Birks started the match off with a rocket cross-court shot to the back right corner. After a kill by Cross, Birks mirrored her first attack with another cross-court kill. Jennifer Cross replied with a kill, followed by the first for Lexi Erwin to take a 3-2 lead. An Erwin service error tied it at three, but an Illinois service error gave Michigan the lead back, and the Wolverines never surrendered it through the remainder of the set. A 3-0 run made it 11-6 Michigan, leading to an Illinois timeout. The Illini returned from the break with a definite intensity build, scoring three-straight and soon coming within one, 12-11. However, a Birks service error stopped the Illini from tying it and shifted the momentum back in the Wolverines' favor. A solo block by Cross extended the lead to three and a kill by Lexi Dannemiller made it 16-12. Michigan continued to gain speed, closing out the set on a 9-4 run, with a Cross-Goode block sealing the deal for a 25-16 victory.
The Wolverines opened the second set up 3-0, but a serving run by Beltran put the Illini on top, 4-3. However, a kill by Cross and an ace by Sabol put Michigan up 5-4, and the Wolverines never again trailed in the set. Michigan held onto a small advantage for the majority of the frame, soon leading 15-12. Back-to-back kills by Birks brought the Illini within one, but an Illinois service error once again ended the bid for the tie, as the Wolverines pushed ahead 19-14. A Johnson-Birks block and Courtney Abrahamovich's first career ace made it 19-16, but the Wolverines continued to press onward, winning the set, 25-19, on an Erwin kill.
Jocelynn Birks returned from the break with a vengeance, putting up a monster 14 kills and hitting .328 in the third set, but it would still not quite be enough, as the Wolverines edged the Illini 26-24 in the third. Liz McMahon logged the first kill of the set, and after a Cross kill, Morganne Criswell smashed a kill to make it 2-1. A service error tied the score, but the Illini went on to win five of the next seven, powered by four Birks kills to take a 7-4 lead. Michigan forced its way back in, 10-9, but a bad set by Dannemiller avoided the tie. The Wolverines pushed back again, 11-10, but a Birks kill kept the Illini's lead alive. A pair of kills by Cross and Davis finally tied the score, but Birks regained the lead with another kill. Michigan would tie the score at 15, 16, 19 and 20, before finally taking the lead, 21-20 on a kill by Lexi Erwin. After an Illinois timeout, Cross made it 22-20, but Ali Stark forced a kill to get one back for the Illini. Crosslanded her 14th kill of the night to go ahead 23-21, but Birks exploded with two kills and a block to earn set point, up 24-23. Nevertheless, Illinois was unable to put the finishing touches on the set, as Michigan scored three in a row, closing out the match as it did in the first set, with a block, to win the frame 26-24, and complete the 3-0 sweep.
Illinois returns to the Wolverine State on Saturday, to take on the No. 25 Spartans of Michigan State in Big Ten Action. The Orange and Blue will face off with MSU at 5:30 p.m. CT.