Dec. 5, 2008

Courtesy of Milwaukee Athletics

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Kylie McCulley had 12 kills and Laura DeBruler 10 as the University of Illinois captured a 25-8, 25-16, 25-20 win over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in a first round NCAA Tournament match Friday night at Huff Hall.

The Illini (25-7), seeded ninth nationally in the tournament and ranked 14th in the latest Bison/AVCA Coaches' Poll, advance to face Cincinnati in the second round Saturday.

Becky Peters had nine kills to lead the Panthers (23-9), who settled into the match after a rough first set but could not hold off late surges by the Illini in the second and third frames.

In fact, after allowing Illinois to hit .310 in the first set, the Panthers limited the Illini to a .154 clip in the second set and a .158 hitting percentage in the third frame. But ultimately, UWM could never get on track offensively, hitting just .017 for the contest.

UWM did also get five kills apiece from Maddie Sueppel and Mary Beth O'Brien, while Lauren Felsing tallied a team-high 15 digs.

"We just completed an incredible season," UWM head coach Susie Johnson said. "We were picked third in the Horizon League and with one senior and 12 freshmen and sophomores, nobody thought we were going to do much of anything. I am really extremely proud. They just fought and fought and fought."

But the Illini, who committed just 14 hitting errors and had 13 blocks, were just too much up front.

"That nine-seed for Illinois is well-deserved," Johnson said. "When you look at the stats, it was a team effort and it was very balanced and very efficient, and they really took care of what they needed to take care of."

Illinois scored the first six points of the first set and never let up after that. In fact, Illinois pushed its lead to 10-2 on a Lizzie Bazzetta ace and the advantage hit 17-4 on a Johannah Bangert kill. The Illini eventually led 19-4 before the Panthers made a brief run, with an Illinois error bringing Milwaukee within 19-7. But, the Illini finished the set by scoring six of the final seven points to cinch the win.

The Panthers put up a strong fight in the second set. After falling down 6-3, the Panthers rallied to tie things at 6 on three-straight kills from O'Brien. Illinois took the lead for good at 8-7 but UWM was still within 10-9 on a kill by Peters. Then, after falling behind 16-9, the Panthers pulled within 16-11 on a kill by Natalie Schmitting and an Illinois error. UWM again fell back 21-13 but scored three-straight to get within 21-16. The next point came on a long rally that went the way of the Illini, and Illinois use that as a spark for a four-point run and a 25-16 victory.

Milwaukee was right in it again in the third set, but a late surge by Illinois finished things off. The Panthers jumped out to a 5-1 lead after a Schmitting kill and still led 9-8 after a kill by Kerri Schuh. UWM fell behind 14-11 but rallied to tie the set at 15 on a Peters kill and an Illinois error. But that is when Illinois made its final run, with four-straight points creating a 19-15 deficit that UWM could never really cut in to. Milwaukee was still within 23-19 and 24-20 after kills by Sueppel but a UWM error allowed the Illini to finish off the match.

UWM loses just one senior - Becky Peters - from its 2008 squad that won both the Horizon League regular season and tournament titles. Milwaukee will return 13 other active players from this year's roster in addition to redshirt Morgan Kilberger and transfer Jena Berg.