Strong Defense Leads No. 6 Illini Past No. 9 Huskers in 3-1 Win
Poulter and Quade notch double-doubles, Kuper and O’Brien combine for 57 digs
LINCOLN, Neb. – Behind a strong defensive effort, the No. 6 Illinois volleyball team earned a 3-1 (27-29, 25-19, 27-25, 25-22) win over No. 9 Nebraska on Saturday (October 27) night at the Devaney Sports Center. It was the first win over the Huskers since 2014 when the Illini swept both meetings with a 3-1 win on October 18 in Lincoln and a 3-2 victory on November 26 in Champaign.
The victory marked the fifth-straight win and the 20th of the season for the Illini, who improved to 20-3 and 9-3 in the Big Ten.
Junior Jacqueline Quade notched her second-straight double-double, ninth of her career and fifth of the season with a match-high 23 kills and 13 digs, while senior Ali Bastianelli turned in 10 kills on a .348 hitting percentage and five blocks. Junior Ashlyn Fleming added nine kills on only one error in 22 swings for a .364 attack clip and a team-high six blocks.
Senior Jordyn Poulter also registered her 34th career double-double and 11th of the season with 49 assists and a season-high 18 digs to go along with three blocks and three kills.
Defensively, sophomore Morgan O’Brien totaled a career-high 32 digs, tying for the seventh-most digs in a single match in program history, while freshman Taylor Kuper also posted a career-high 25 digs and junior Caroline Welsh added 11 digs on the night as the Illini held the Huskers (16-6, 7-5 B1G) to a .099 team hitting percentage.
UNL grabbed an early three-point advantage at 7-4 in the opening set with back-to-back kills, but a Quade kill sandwiched between two Nebraska errors knotted things at 7-7. The home team again took a 12-8 lead on three-straight scores, but the Illini responded with a 6-2 run to tie things up at 14-14 on a Quade and Bastianelli block. From there the two teams battled back and forth until the Huskers broke a 19-19 tie with back-to-back scores for the 21-19 edge, but the Illini used three-unanswered points to take a 22-21 lead on a Poulter and Bastianelli block. Another 3-0 run – this time by the home team – gave Nebraska set point at 24-22, but the Illini continued to battle as UI fought off five set points before an UNL block finished off the opener at 29-27.
After Nebraska opened the second set with a quick 4-1 lead, the Illini came back to tie things at 6-6 on a kill from redshirt-junior Beth Prince. A 5-0 run from the Illini then pushed the visitors ahead at 11-8 on back-to-back blocks, followed by a Prince kill, a Poulter ace and a kill from sophomore Megan Cooney. The Huskers cut the deficit to 14-12, but a 7-2 run from the visitors pushed the advantage to 21-14 following a Fleming and Prince block. Four-straight points from the home team closed the gap to 21-18, but back-to-back Fleming kills stalled the UNL rally as kills from the San Jose, California native and Cooney sealed the 25-19 second set win.
On the strong serve of junior Caroline Welsh, the Illini took an 4-1 edge in the third set, before the Huskers came back to grab a 6-5 lead on a pair of UI errors. Four-straight points from the visitors then pushed the Illini back on top at 9-6 on three Quade kills and a Poulter attack. Nebraska then answered with their own 6-1 run for the 14-11 advantage. Down by three at 17-14, the Illini fought back to tie the score at 17-17 on a Quade kill following a UNL overpass. A Poulter and Bastianelli block bookended by a pair of Bastianelli kills broke a 18-18 tie for a 21-18 Illini lead, but Nebraska battled back with a 6-2 run to earn its first set point at 24-23. After fighting off a pair of Husker set points, back-to-back Quade kills produced a 27-25 Illini win in the third.
With Illinois leading 2-1 in the match, the Huskers jumped out to an 8-3 edge in the fourth period and continued to lead at 11-7 until UI used seven-unanswered scores to push ahead at 14-11 on the strength of the Welsh serve. After a UNL kill stopped the run, back-to-back Husker errors gave the Illini a 16-12 lead, but the home team responded with a 6-2 run to tie the score at 18-18. Kills from Fleming and Prince along with a Husker error propelled the Illini to a 22-19 advantage, but three-straight points from the home team knotted things at 22-22. Following an Illini timeout, the Huskers served up an error, before back-to-back blocks – first from Quade and Fleming and then from Fleming and Cooney – sent Illinois to victory with the 25-22 set score in the fourth and the 3-1 win in the match.
Illinois continues its three-match road swing next weekend with a Friday (November 2) night match against Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, before traveling to College Park, Maryland, to take on Maryland on Sunday (November 4).