Illinois sweeps Central Michigan
Bartsch tallies 11 kills in the victory for the Illini
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Michelle Bartsch had a team-leading 11 kills, including seven in the third set to lift third-seeded and seventh-ranked Illinois to a 3-0 (25-16, 25-22, 25-18) victory against Central Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday night. The Illini out-blocked CMU 12-2 and advance to meet Marquette.
Illinois hit .360 for the match, including a .467 clip in the third set to pull away from a Central Michigan team that challenged the Illini in the second and third sets. The Illini had just two hitting errors in each set with just four of the six total errors unforced.
Junior Erin Johnson was in on seven of Illinois' 12 blocks on the night and junior Annie Luhrsen (30 assists) helped direct a balanced offense.
"I think I was just working hard to get low and over," Johnson said. "We wanted to seal the line and make sure we were getting over the net so that they couldn't get in a rhythm. The outsides have been working their tails off to get the slide blocking down and I thought we did a good job tonight. "
The Illini surged out to big leads in the first set. Johnson served five of the first six points, which included three aces as Illinois went in front 6-0. Colleen Ward added an ace of her own as the lead reached 10-2. It was 15-6 through the first service rotation. That as it turned out was the final margin of the set.
In set two, it was Central Michigan who jumped to the 6-0 lead. CMU used the arm of Kaitln Schultz, many coming on the back slide to battle the Illini to the end. Schultz had eight kills and hit .385 en route to a team-high 11 kills.
Illinois methodically worked its way back into it before finally tying the score at 10-10 on a big swing from Colleen Ward (9 kills). The set had five ties, but Illinois never relinquished the lead after that. It looked as if Illinois was finally pulling away, up 17-14, but Central Michigan came back to tie it at 20-20. The Illini scored five of the last seven points of the set to win it.
Bartsch was especially potent in the third set with seven kills in nine swings and finished hitting .455 on the night with just one hitting error. She scored in almost every way possible in that third set, tipping around the block, hitting through the block, hitting off the block and finding the open court. The senior had hit .667 with seven kills and a block in the frame. Although the Illini didn't shake the Chippewas until the end, they controlled the third set, hitting .467 and siding out at 89 percent (17 of 19).
"I think she and Annie really started connecting in that third set," Hambly said of Bartsch's play "They got a nice rhythm going and she was swinging high instead of bringing it down to the block which is something she's always working on."
Illinois plays another team in round two in Marquette, who is making its first NCAA appearance.