Nov. 5, 2010

Courtesy of Northwestern Athletics

In arguably one of the biggest victories in head coach Keylor Chan's tenure, 24th-ranked Northwestern clicked on all cylinders, shocking sixth-ranked Illinois 25-22, 25-23, 25-20 at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The victory over the Illini marks the highest ranked opponent the Wildcats have defeated since a 3-2 victory over third-ranked Penn State in 2000, and it was Northwestern's first three-set sweep of its in-state rival since 1984.

"What an unbelievable match from start to finish," said head coach Keylor Chan. "Our girls executed all night long and you could tell from before the match started this was one that was really important to them. We played (Illinois) well in the first meeting of the year, and I think that loss made these girls even hungrier to get this victory tonight. It was just an all-around great effort and was a lot of fun to be a part of."

Northwestern had five hitting errors in the first set, which would prove to be the only ones the Wildcats experienced. NU combined for no errors in both the second and third set, knocking down 44 kills on 104 attempts for a .375 hitting percentage. The five errors is the second-fewest in Northwestern program history, second only to the four against Illinois-Chicago earlier this season.

The middle blocking tandem of Naomi Johnson (Bloomington, Minn./Kennedy) and Sabel Moffett (Temecula, Calif./Chapparal) played a major role in that offensive attack, combining for 26 kills and no errors between the pair. Johnson had 14 kills on 21 swings (.667) and a team-best five blocks while Moffett finished with 12 kills on 22 attempts (.545), four digs and a block.

Stephanie Holthus (Burlington, Ill./Central) was the third Wildcat to crack double-digits in the kill column, finishing with 10 on the night while Christina Kaelin (Louisville, Ky./Assumption) added five kills for Northwestern. Madalyn Shalter (Ottawa, Ohio/Ottawa-Glandorf) continued her impressive play over the past month, finishing with 11 digs, two blocks and four service aces to complement three kills.

Elyse Glab (Chicago, Ill./Resurrection) dished out 36 assists in the victory, upping her career total to 4,503 as she becomes the third player in Northwestern history to reach that milestone. She also sits at 997 assists for the season, needing just three more for her fourth-straight 1,000 assist season. Alex Ayers (Playa del Rey, Calif./Marymount) led the Wildcats with 14 digs on the night, followed by the 11 from Shalter and nine from Julie Chin (Naperville, Ill./North).

Northwestern came out of the gate quickly, pouncing out to an early 10-5 advantage in set one and forcing an Illinois timeout. The Illini tried to cut into the Wildcat lead, getting as close as two at 16-14 and again at 22-20. But NU held its ground, as a pair of kills by Moffett down the stretch gave the 'Cats some breathing room at 24-20 before taking the opening set 25-22.

Illinois responded with a quick run early in the second stanza, leading by as many as five early on at 14-9. But a 7-1 run Northwestern run put the Wildcats on top 16-15, setting up a back and forth battle down the stretch as the two teams combined for nine ties and five lead changes. Trailing 21-19, NU made its move, outscoring the Illini 6-2 over the final eight points, highlighted by a pair of kills from both Holthus and Moffett to steal the second set 25-23 and take a commanding 2-0 lead into the intermission.

With the huge upset well within its grasp, Northwestern began to pull away at the midway point of set three, building a five-point cushion at 16-11. Illinois put together one final stand to try and stave off the sweep, pulling to within one at 16-15, but the night belonged to Northwestern which put together a 5-0 run of its own to break the set open at 21-15 before completing the upset with a 25-20 third set decision.

Northwestern now finds itself at 7-6 in Big Ten play and in a four-way tie for fourth-place in the conference standings with Minnesota, Ohio State and Purdue. It also marks the third victory for the Wildcats over a top-20 program after defeating 14th-ranked Tennessee and 16th-ranked Minnesota earlier in the year.

Coach Chan and the Wildcats have little time to celebrate the victory, however, as Wisconsin comes to town Saturday night with payback on its mind. Northwestern swept the Badgers 3-0 in Madison back on Oct. 1, its first victory at Wisconsin Field House since 1985. Opening serve is set for 7 p.m. at Welsh-Ryan Arena.