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Early exit for Redbirds in NCAA Tournament

Early exit for Redbirds in NCAA Tournament

Picture courtesy of Sarah Feltes, WZND

MILWAUKEE – It was a fight that had a lot of heart, but not enough momentum. Illinois State (25-8) lost in three sets to Cincinnati (26-7) in the first round of the NCAA Division I Volleyball Tournament.

“I thought Cincinnati played a great match,” said Illinois State head coach Leah Johnson. “They were well prepared and played a spread offense which was much more even then it had been over the year, and I think that was a great game plan on their part.”

The Redbirds got off to a hot start in the first match, however, lost momentum by the second point. It was senior Lexi Wallen with an attack and sophomore Stef Jankiewicz who provided an ace helped the Redbirds get back into the game. The Bearcats were the first to 15 but the Redbirds only stayed close with 11. Back-to-back kills by sophomore Kaylee Martin helped close the gap by two, and an error by the Bearcats kept the game within the margins. It was a kill by Cincinnati’s Jordan Thompson who got her team to 20 points first. Attacks that went undug were the problem that set Illinois State back. Cincinnati took the first set 25-19.

With Martin leading the team with five kills in the first match, the Redbirds were searching for a comeback in the second. Down early in the second, the Redbirds were able to turn things around with a kill from Martin and a service error from the Bearcats. Cincinnati led 4-2 when an error put Illinois State within a one-point margin. A back and forth battle kept Illinois State within one point until Thompson scored on two kills. The Redbirds tied the game at eight when Thompson hit one out of bounds. Martin put the Redbirds ahead for the first time in the set with a kill at the net and continued to carry her team with a second. Illinois State was ahead 11-9 and continued up from there. With a four-point lead, the Bearcats came clawing back, but not quick enough as Illinois State took lead 16-13. The Redbirds then struggled with digging balls from Maria Mallon and Erica Kostelac, Cincinnati came back to tie the game at 18. For the first time since the eighth point, Cincinnati took the lead 20-18 with the help of Thompson. A service error from Alyssa Krongberg kept the Bearcats up by two, however, the Redbirds tired to keep themselves composed. A kill from Martin brought the birds back into the game 22-21. With the Bearcats attacking hard, it was an error by Ella Francis that led Cincinnati to the 25th point.

Going into the third, the Redbirds were in need of a win to stay alive. Illinois State and Cincinnati were evenly matched and the lead changed every point. Tied at seven Cincinnati took the lead by two, but not before Martin put an attack on the board that slimed the margin to one. An out of bounds attack by Thompson tied the game at 10 apiece. Back to back service errors by both teams kept the two tied, before Kostelac found the hardwood. A service and attacking error got the Birds down by two, but a kill from senior Ali Line and a block by Martin tied the game at 14. Martin with another set of kills gave Illinois State the 17-14 lead late in the third set. A quick set and kill by Line kept the Redbirds up by three, but Thompson would decrease that margin, responding with a kill. Tied again at 18, freshman Marissa Stockman came out of the timeout to give the Birds the lead.

“It was 18-18, 20-20, 22-22, and then they pulled away,” said Johnson. “I was really proud, I thought we went point for point. Each of those games were 50/50.”

The Bearcats and Redbirds continued the back and forth, but Cincinnati broke free at the 21st point.  ISU stayed alive tying the game at 21 and took the lead after an attacking error by Jasmine Jones. Tied again at 22, a kill by Bearcat Kostelac put Cincinnati ahead by one and a net violation by the Redbirds gave them another. A kill by Kostelac sealed the deal for the Bearcats, who advance to the second round of the NCAA Division I Tournament.

Martin ended the night with 17 kills, while Line finished with 11. The Redbirds conclude their season 25-8 overall. Seniors Line, Courtney Pence, Jordan Weatherless and Lexi Varga ended their careers at Illinois State with a Co-Championship, undefeated home record, and a chance to dance at the NCAA Division I Volleyball Tournament.

“This isn’t something that started in August, it started our Freshman year,” said Pence. “It took everyone to be all in and it’s just the icing on the cake. We’ve taken it all in and celebrated every point, and celebrated this entire season as a whole. The feeling is unreal, and it was so fun to play in an atmosphere like this.”

In the following game, No. 14 ranked Marquette beat out High Point University in three sets. Cincinnati will battle Marquette Saturday night for the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Julie Martin

November 30th, 2018

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