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Illinois Athletics | October 1, 2021

Illinois volleyball upsets No. 4 Purdue in five-set thriller

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For the fifth time in the last six matches in West Lafayette, the Illinois volleyball team left Holloway Gymnasium with a victory as the Illini earned their sixth straight win with a 3-2 (30-28, 25-15, 26-24, 18-25, 15-10) victory over No. 4 Purdue on Friday (Oct. 1) night.

It is the highest-ranked win for the Illini since defeating No. 1 USC in the 2011 NCAA national semifinal match on December 15, 2011. Illinois moves to 11-3 and 3-0 in the Big Ten Conference, marking the first time since 2018 that the Illini have opened league play with three straight wins.

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The Illini had four players reach double figures kills, led by graduate student Megan Cooney with a career-high-tying with 21 kills on a .260 hitting percentage. Junior Jessica Nunge turned in 15 kills, while sophomore Raina Terry registered her ninth-career double-double with 14 kills, a career-high 17 digs and two service aces. Junior Kennedy Collins added 10 kills to go along with a team-high five blocks.

Redshirt-junior Diana Brown posted her 30th career double-double with 50 assists, 15 digs and four blocks, while defensively junior Kyla Swanson also turned in four stuffs and senior Taylor Kuper tallied her fifth 20-dig match of the season and 12th of her career with a match-high 25 digs to lead the Illini.

The opening stanza set the tone for the match with 19 ties, eight lead changes and only one lead that was larger than two points throughout the entirely of the period as a Purdue attack error and a Cooney kill opened the scoring for a 2-0 UI lead. It was back-and-forth from there as a Terry kill gave the Illini an 8-6 lead, the Boilermakers came back with a 5-1 run to go ahead at 11-9. A Cooney then tied things at 12-12, but back-to-back Purdue points gave the home team a 14-12 advantage. UI responded with four-straight points to start a 6-1 run for an 18-15 edge midway through the set. Purdue then answered back with four-straight scores of their own to pull ahead at 19-18. The two teams went back and forth from there with both teams earning three set points until a Brown ace finished off the third and final Illini set point at 30-28.

In another tight start to the set, the two teams went back and forth until the Boilermakers grabbed an early 10-7 advantage with four-straight scores. A Purdue ball handling error then brought the Illini within two at 10-8, but the home team used an 8-2 run to take control of the second at 18-10. After trading points over the next several points, back-to-back Nunge kills closed the deficit to 20-14, but PU responded with a 5-1 run to take the set, 25-15.

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It was a set of runs in the third as Purdue scored the first eight of 12 points for the early advantage, before another three-unanswered scores gave the home team an 11-5 lead. The Illini responded back with a 5-2 run as a Cooney kill brought UI within three at 13-10, but the Boilermakers again used a 6-3 run to seemingly take control at 19-13. Three-straight Illini points – capped back-to-back Terry kills – closed the deficit to 19-16, before PU converted three of the next four scores to push its edge back to 22-17. The Illini then put together six-unanswered points as a Terry ace brought the visitors all the way back to take a 23-22 lead. After a Purdue kill tied things at 23-23, a Cooney gave the Illini set point at 24-23. The Boilermakers fought it off, but back-to-back kills from Nunge and Cooney set the Illini to the 26-24 victory and 2-1 advantage in the match.    

The Boilermakers opened the scoring in the fourth with the stanza's first three points, before the Illini came back with a 7-2 run to pull ahead at 7-5 on a Nunge kill. Four-straight Illini points then turned into a 5-1 Illini run for a 12-7 advantage following a Terry kill, but the home team responded with eight-straight points en route to a 10-1 run and a 17-13 lead in the fourth. A pair of Cooney kills sandwiched between a Purdue score cut the deficit to three at 18-15, but another 4-0 Boilermaker scoring run gave the home team a 22-15 edge. The Illini answered back with back-to-back points, but Purdue scored the next three of four points to force a fifth set with the 25-18 win.

Purdue took an early 3-1 advantage in the fifth set, before a Collins and Nunge block tied things up at 4-4. After a Boilermaker kill, three-straight UI scores started a 6-1 run as the Illini grabbed control at 12-7. The home team responded with back-to-back points, but a Cooney kill stalled the rally. The two teams then traded points, before a Kuper ace sealed the fifth set, 15-10 and the 3-2 match win.   

Illinois next returns to Huff Hall to host No. 5 Wisconsin at 12 p.m. CT on Sunday (Oct. 3).

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