UI
Ward

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Senior outside hitter Colleen Ward had 27 kills and Illinois advanced to its first championship match in school history by upsetting USC in five sets in the NCAA semifinals on Thursday night.

Michelle Bartsch added 22 kills for the Illini (32-4) in the 25-27, 25-18, 25-22, 18-25, 15-10 win. They advance to face UCLA in Saturday’s national championship match at the Alamodome.

Alex Jupiter had 32 kills for USC (29-5). The Trojans lost in the semis for the second consecutive year after being pushed to five sets for the third match in a row during this tournament.

The Illini were playing in their first semifinal in 23 years. They’ll face college volleyball royalty in the Bruins, who have won three championships, but none since 1991.

Illinois, on the other hand, hadn’t even made it this far since 1988. Now the Illini become the latest program to try and extend the championship drought on the West Coast, where an NCAA title hasn’t been brought back since 2005.

“It’s surreal. I’m really just taking it in,” Illinois freshman Liz McMahon said. “It’s a blast. It’s fun with this team and how far we’ve come.”

Michelle Bartsch added 22 kills for the Illini in the 25-27, 25-18, 25-22, 18-25, 15-10 win. Alex Jupiter had 32 kills for USC (29-5). The Trojans lost in the semis for the second consecutive year after being pushed to five sets for a third consecutive match this tournament.