Late in the first set of its Big Ten home opener Friday, IU found itself down eight points to yet another ranked Big Ten opponent, this time No. 18 Illinois. The Hoosiers didn’t quit, as they cut the lead in half and fought back to 24-20. Still, the Fighting Illini survived by winning the set, and they never looked back from that point on.
Illinois beat IU in straight sets — 25-20, 25-13 and 25-19 — in what was the third conference loss for the Hoosiers in just as many matches. The loss for IU moves it to 11-5 on the season, while the win for Illinois moved it to 8-5 overall and 2-1 Big Ten play.
IU head coach Steve Aird noted after the match that he tried out new personnel groups following last weekend’s losses to Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“We made some adjustments tonight and tried to do some different things with the lineup,” Aird said. “The result would say it wasn’t a good idea but we needed to know. There were certainly some things we liked about it. What I don’t want to do is lose to top-ten teams and not make changes.”
Aird’s adjustments included more playing time for freshman setter Emily Fitzner and junior defensive specialist Bayli Lebo. Fitzner finished the match with 24 assists and Lebo, who set the individual record for digs in a season a year ago, had 10 digs on the night.
The Hoosiers struggled offensively, hitting only .075 as a unit compared to Illinois’s percentage of .334. Outside hitters Breana Edwards, Kendall Beerman and Kamryn Malloy each hit below .100 in the match for IU. Megan Sloan was a bright spot for the Hoosiers with five kills and a team-high .273 hitting percentage.
To go along with the struggles at the net, IU had eight service errors and only one ace. Luckily for the Hoosiers, the Illini also struggled in their service game, totaling 10 service errors themselves and only two aces.
“You’ve got four or five staff people working like crazy to have a good game plan and then when you miss a bunch of serves or hit the ball out a bunch, it kind of defeats the purpose,” Aird said. “It comes back to training. We’ve got to get better at those skills.”
Defensively, IU was out-blocked 11-4 on the match, with senior middle blocker Jacqui Armer tallying half of the team’s blocks. Senior middle blocker Ashlyn Flemming led the Illini with six.
Tomorrow night, IU will have another opportunity to snag its first conference win as Northwestern comes to Bloomington for a 7 p.m. match. The Wildcats are also 0-3 in conference, coming off a straight-set loss to Purdue on Friday night in West Lafayette.
“The turnaround in the Big Ten is so tough,” Aird said. “There’s not a lot of time to get in the gym and train. But, we have the luxury now of at least having been through a match in a different system. We can go back and forth if we need to and I think that’s a positive.”
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