Women’s Volleyball Downs Illinois in Straight Sets
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – It only took No. 3 Penn State three sets to come away with a victory over the visiting Illinois Fighting Illini in Rec Hall Friday night.
Penn State took each set 25-19, 25-17 and 26-24. Illinois did not go down without a fight, but an attack error on match point ended any hope of a rally.
The Nittany Lions improved to 12-1 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play. The ladies are on a two-game winning streak, and have bounced back nicely after suffering a 3-0 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
It was a statement win for Penn State, as Illinois was undefeated against Big Ten opponents and when playing away from home.
Illinois entered Rec Hall being the third school in the nation in blocks per set (3.29). The Fighting Illini are headed by junior middle blocker Ali Bastianelli, who is first in the NCAA, averaging 1.90 blocks per set.
“Illinois is always a tough team to play,” Penn State head coach Russ Rose said. “Bastianelli and Holter are a tough tandem to handle.”
“She’s huge. She’s a phenomenal blocker,” senior middle blocker Haleigh Washington said. “She’s been a phenomenal blocker all three, four years that she’s been around. We knew that coming in and we wanted to avoid her.”
The offense had no trouble getting past Illinois’ top tier line of defense, though. The Nittany Lions were able to hit .337 average against the Fighting Illini and converted six service aces.
Washington was superb in Friday’s outing, leading the way with 11 kills, four blocks and two service aces. Washington also finished the contest with a clean slate, coming away without an error.
Washington approached tonight’s match with a calm and collected mentality, trying to get back on track after the Nebraska loss from a weekend ago.
“Chill out,” Washington said, when asked what she told herself before the game. “Lots of people say don’t pregame to slow jams. I did that. I relaxed and just focused on the game. You come to this school to play the game you love and that’s what it came down to.”
Senior outside hitter Simone Lee was right behind Washington in the offensive production. The Wisconsin native was second on the team in kills with 10, and added four digs, too.
Senior right-side hitter Heidi Thelen was also a big contributor for the Nittany Lions. A force in front of the net, she led the team in blocks with six and made it extremely difficult for Illinois’ offensive attack to form.
Rose was impressed with Thelen’s performance and liked that she gave the team a better chance to be tougher on defense.
“I thought Heidi was our leading blocker tonight and that’s why she’s in there,” Rose said. “We put her in and I think she’s done a nice job there.”
“It also gives us an opportunity to move her and Haleigh around when they’re next to each other.”
The Nittany Lions return to Rec Hall tomorrow night to host the Northwestern Wildcats for their fourth Big Ten match at 7:30 p.m.
Zach Seyko is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in communication arts & sciences. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.