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B1G Win for the ‘Birds

Written by on September 14, 2019

(Photo courtesy of Nick Imparo)
NORMAL- On Friday night in front of 3,850 energetic fans at newly renovated Redbird Arena, the Illinois State Redbirds opened the Redbird Classic with a four set (25-16, 21-25, 25-21, 25-21) victory over No. 14 ranked, Illinois.

The Redbirds wasted no time jumping all over the Illini in the first set when they took a 9-2 commanding lead. A start in which Illinois State Head Coach, Leah Johnson called “strong” saying she was impressed with her team’s “poise and mental game.” Illinois tried their best to contain Illinois State’s hot start by calling a timeout down 18-10, but it wasn’t enough as the Redbirds took set 1, 25-16. Illinois Head Coach, Chris Tamas says he knew the battle of the state was going to be a “big environment” and felt like his team “never got in a good rhythm.”

In the second set, Illinois was able to get off to a better start, drawing to a 12-12 tie at one point. After a couple timeouts, the Illini were able to grab a lead and never looked back, winning the second set, 25-21.

Set #3 got out to an identical start as the first set of the match as the redbirds were able to jump out to another 9-2 lead but the Illini didn’t go down quietly cutting the lead to just 2, 21-19. After an Illinois timeout, the Redbirds scored four straight points and went on to win the third set, 25-21.

When the fourth set began, Illinois State had one thing in mind, to finish off the Illini and they did just that. After a back and forth start to the set which included a 7-7 tie at one point, Illinois State would go on a scoring run giving them 17-10 lead. When Illinois was awarded what they thought was their 13th point of the set, Leah Johnson decided she wanted the officials to take another look, using her challenge. After video review, the call was overturned giving the Birds an 18-12 lead, killing any and all Illinois momentum.

“I I think if they continue that momentum, this game becomes a deuce set” said Johnson. “I really believe that.”

Illinois State would go onto to win the 4th set, 25-21, and most importantly, the match, 3 sets to 1.

“I’m very proud of the team, Illinois is a great team, they are well-coached, I know they had adversity but they played tough every point and made us earn it” said Johnson. “That’s what I’m proud of. We should be playing with great confidence right now, we’ve ironed out a few of our soft spots and we are turning them into strengths.”

Illinois State captain Stef Jankiewicz, who led her team with 42 assists, said she was in awe and was blown away by the atmosphere at Redbird Arena.
“It was one of the best experiences to know all those fans came out to watch and support us. That’s how you know our community is a support system” said Jankiewicz. “That’s beyond what we could ask for.”

For Illinois, Head Coach, Chris Tamas knows his team, a Final four finisher just a season ago, is not playing the way they should be. “We’re not at the point where it’s easy right now, I think we’re pressing a little right now.”

The win for Illinois State marks the program’s first win over Illinois since August 31, 2006 and levels the series at 30 games apiece. Even with the upset win, ISU Head Coach Leah Johnson says it still isn’t enough.

“We’re not going to rest on this. This should never be enough” said Johnson. “We’re honored by it, we’re excited by it but next. Onto the next.”

Luckily for the Redbirds (6-1), they won’t have to wait long for the next match. Illinois State continues the Redbird Classic on Saturday night when they take on the University of Central Florida (5-2). The Knights will look to rebound against the Birds after losing their first match of the Classic on Friday night when they fell to Marquette in 5 sets. Start time for ISU and UCF is scheduled for 5:30pm.