Illinois ends USC's 52 Match Winning Streak

It truly was a night to remember for Illinois volleyball. Nearly 3,000 fans jammed Huff Hall to witness one of the top Illinois home events in history. The Illini gutted out a 30-24, 24-30, 12-30, 30-27, 15-8 victory over top-ranked and two-time defending national champion USC, ending the longest winning streak in NCAA volleyball history at 52 straight. Illinois, who defeated a number one team for the first time in school history, moves to 5-0 on the season.

Champaign, IL - Illinois, who had advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 a year ago, is setting out to become a national contender once again. A win over the top-ranked team in the country certainly puts Illinois on the national map. Illinois fell short of USC in nearly every statistical category, being out-hit .277-.126, and out-blocked 19-10, but in the end a never-say die attitude was the difference. The statistical category that does stick out was serve reception, where USC did not convert a service ace all night, while Illinois had nine by seven different players. The senior back row players Kathleen Bazzetta, Lauren Harks and Erin Virtue, and junior Beth Vrdsky made some diving digs to keep rallies alive.

While Rachel VanMeter, who was named the tournament MVP, has been the focal point of the offense, junior outside hitter Rasa Virsilaite, had some sensational kills, leading Illinois with 14 kills on the night. Senior Jessica Belter tallied 13 kills, while redshirt freshman Jen Hynds had 12 and VanMeter 11.

Illinois set the tone early, taking an 18-12 lead in game one. USC pulled to within 26-22 before VanMeter came through with an electrifying kill to end the USC rally. The Women of Troy got to within 27-24 before Illinois closed out game one with three straight points, the last on a kill from Belter.

USC bolted to a 6-0 lead in game two, but a flurry off the serve of Meghan Macdonald gave Illinois a 14-9 lead. The Illini scored nine straight points of Macdonald's serve. USC, however, then went on a 12-2 run to take a commanding 21-16 lead in the second game and closed out the game, 30-24.

"I told our team at intermission that if we can win one of the next to games we could get to rally scoring and I'd take our chances with this crowd in that situation," Hardin said.

USC showed early that game three would not be the one Illinois would get in dominating 30-12, but Illinois remained composed in winning game four. The Illini middles were the difference in the fourth game. Macdonald had five of her nine kills and hit .667 for the game. Jen Hynds had four kills and hit .429, including the game ender.

Illinois again used Macdonald's serve to take charge in the fifth game. The sophomore served four straight points to make it 6-1 and the crowd could begin to sense history in the making. VanMeter closed out the victory by collecting three of the final five points on thunderous swings and pandemonium set in at Huff Hall.

The victory was a total team effort. Vrdsky and Virtue led the way in the back row with 15 and 11 digs, respectively. Hynds had a solid outing with one solo block and seven block assists. Freshman Vicki Brown had seven kills and hit .250. Although she played a limited role Brown was put in the game at key moments to provide a needed spark.

"Our team showed a lot of heart with this victory," Hardin said afterward. "USC is a great team, but we were determined to battle down to the end and leave it all out there. These seniors have invested a lot to help us get where we are. We have some talented young players who played loose and were sensational tonight."

Although the coach was pleased with the performance, he knows that there is a lot of volleyball to be played. "We have 20 matches in the Big Ten, many of which will be as tough as tonight. We have turned some heads in the volleyball world, however."

Story courtesy the University of Illinois

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