CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – For the second time this season, the Husky volleyball team set the stage nicely for the Husky football team, as sixth-ranked Washington knocked off 14th-ranked Illinois tonight at Huff Hall by a count of 25-21, 22-25, 25-19, 25-13. Krista Vansant’s double-double led the way, as the Dawgs will now head to Chicago to cheer on the football team at Soldier Field on Saturday.
The Huskies improved to 5-0, got a road win over a ranked opponent, and spoiled the annual “Stuff Huff” night which attracted 3,538 hostile fans. Illinois (4-3) had been 7-0 in its previous “Stuff Huff” promotions, and entered the night having already earned three wins over ranked opponents. Two weeks ago, the Huskies opened the year with a win over BoiseState, one day before football's opening victory against BSU.
“The crowd was unreal,” said Husky Head Coach Jim McLaughlin. “We were in a tough environment. I thought we responded okay in game one and held our composure at the end of the set. We lost our composure a bit in game two, but then we stabilized, and started putting ourselves in good spots, and started to just do the things we normally do.”
After winning the third set for the 2-1 lead, the Huskies played lights out to close it out in the fourth set. Washington hit .500 in set four, upping its total for the night to .270, compared to a .207 mark for the Fighting Illini. The Huskies had a big edge at the service line with 10 aces against 12 errors, while Illinois had just two aces and missed 11 serves. Washington had a 57-47 edge in kills and led in blocks, 10.5 to 5.0.
Vansant led all players with 19 kills, and made just one error on 39 swings for a .462 attack percentage. She also added 11 digs for her third double-double. Senior Jenna Orlandini led all players with 18 digs, while sophomore Lianna Sybeldon had six block assists to lead the way. Sophomore Melanie Wade had a good all-around night with eight kills on a .353 attack percentage, two aces, three digs, and three blocks. Sophomore Cassie Strickland had four aces, five kills, 11 digs, and three blocks, and Jenni Nogueras and Katy Beals split the assists nearly in half, with 24 for Nogeras and 22 for Beals.
“We were able to put some pressure on them and we served and passed well and the distribution was good,” said McLaughlin. “Krista, hitting over .400, she was really good. This is a very good win for our program against a good, well-coached volleyball team.”
McLaughlin said the team started cheering for some football the minute they got back on the bus tonight. “I can’t wait,” he said. “Our girls are fired up, to be part of that at Soldier Field. We’ll leave early in the morning, get down there and practice, then go over and cheer like crazy for our team.”
The Huskies started out working through the middle, with Sybeldon earning the first kill and Wade quickly adding two more. A four-point run took the Huskies from a couple points down to up 9-7 on Wade’s serve, with Sybeldon and Strickland earning a block to cap the run. A Sybeldon kill and a Strickland ace forced Illinois to call timeout with the Huskies up 13-10. A 3-0 run on a Wade kill, a Vansant finish, and a block by the two of them built the lead to 18-14. The teams traded points until Illinois ran off three straight to cut the lead to one at 22-21 and the Huskies called time. Nogueras set up Vansant out of the break for a finish, and then Vansant got another on the next rally to bring up set point. Wade ended it by putting away an Illini overpass for 25-21. Vansant had five kills on a .455 percentage in the first set, and Wade had four, hitting .500, as UW outhit Illinois, .211 to .182.
In set two, the teams split the first ten points but a 3-0 run from Illinois forced an early Husky timeout trailing 6-9. Kaleigh Nelson put one of her 10 kills down out of the break, and a block by Kylin Muñoz and Sybeldon cut the gap to one at 10-11. A few points later, Wade and Vansant had a roof for 13-14, and the Huskies got back even at 15-all on a Vansant kill and an ace. But Illinois answered with a key five point run, interrupted by Washington’s second timeout. Down 15-20, Nelson had a kill and then Wade served up an ace, but Illinois pulled away again for a six-point edge at 23-17. Illinois had six set points, but a Strickland ace and a Vansant finish erased a couple and Illinois took timeout at 24-21. An Illinois error made things tighter still out of the break, but Strickland misfired with her serve after a good run, ending it at 22-25. The Fighting Illini hit a hot .382 in the second set compared to .225 for the Huskies. Vansant and Nelson had five kills apiece in the set.
Muñoz started to get rolling in the third set, earning two early kills, and an Orlandini ace plus back-to-back Vansant finishes had the Huskies up 6-3 early. The teams swapped two-point bursts back and forth with the Huskies continually holding a one to three point edge. Strickland had a couple kills during the middle stretch, then Vansant got an unassisted slam for a 15-11 lead that forced an Illinois whistle. Washington took time after a couple errors, but still holding a 19-16 lead. Gabbi Parker finished a Beals set out of the break, then Muñoz had a clutch kill for a 21-18 lead. With Strickland serving, Illinois overpassed and Sybeldon hammered it home, and then Vansant got a kill on an Orlandini set for 23-18, prompting the last Illinois timeout. The senior duo of Muñoz and Parker put down consecutive kills from fellow senior Nogueras to finish the set, 25-19. Vansant had six more kills in the set, with Muñoz adding four on six swings. Beals had seven digs in the third frame, helping to hold Illinois to .156 on offense, while the Huskies improved again to .260.
Nogueras had a great serving run to grab the fourth set by the throat early, as she started with an ace and kills from Parker and Muñoz, and a block by Muñoz and Sybeldon had the Huskies up 5-0 and Illinois had to call time. Another ace from Strickland made it 7-2 Dawgs. Illinois made a run to trim the Husky lead to 10-7, but Strickland killed a Beals set, then the Huskies got a triple block from Nelson, Sybeldon, and Strickland, followed by a Wade ace and another block from Sybeldon and Nelson to double up Illinois at 14-7 and force the last timeout. Strickland connected for a big cushion at 18-8, and the Huskies continued to apply the pressure. Strickland had her fourth ace for a 20-9 edge. Three more late kills for Vansant got the Huskies to match point at 24-12, and Wade put down the last set of the night from Beals for the 25-13 win. The Huskies hit a scorching .500 in the last set, 12 kills on 20 swings with just two errors, adding four aces and 4.5 blocks while Illinois hit just .087. Six Huskies had kills in the set, and five had at least two.
Washington will stay in Chicago overnight and get back to action on Sunday against Loyola Chicago.