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Despite Sunday Heart breaker, Successful Weekend for the ‘Birds

Written by on September 16, 2019

(Photo courtesy of Nick Imparo)

NORMAL – When the announcement that The Redbird Classic was coming to Redbird Arena was made, Illinois State Volleyball Head Coach Leah Johnson was excited for the opportunity to showcase premier volleyball in front of Redbird fans. Days before the Classic, Johnson said she was looking for her team to get a ‘significant win’.

With the Redbird Classic in the books and a winner crowned, Coach Johnson can now say that her team not only beat the 14th ranked team in the country, defeated a very-talented Central Florida team but also pushed the 7th ranked team in the nation to the final point of the 5th set.

The Redbirds opened the Classic on Friday night in front of almost 4,000 fans beating No. 14 Illinois in four sets. Illinois State jumped all over the Illini early and Illinois was never able to fully respond. By the end of her postgame presser, Johnson was already moved on. For ISU, they had their next match in less than 24 hours versus the University of Central Florida. UCF, an unranked team like the Redbirds started their Redbird Classic, Friday night with a tough, 5 set loss to No. 7 Marquette. After defeating No. 14 Illinois in four sets on Saturday morning, UCF and the Redbirds met on Saturday night with both teams looking for their second win of the tournament.

Illinois State made sure they were the only one’s accomplishing that feat. The Redbirds and Knights would go back and forth with the first four sets before Illinois State took control of the 5th set, winning the set and match. Although happy with the win, Coach Johnson once again moved on quickly and was ready for a Sunday battle with No. 7 Marquette. 

On the last day of the tournament, the Redbirds knew that a win would cap off a perfect 3-0 weekend and a Redbird Classic win. The only thing standing in their way, the 7th ranked team in the nation, Marquette. The match started off slow for the Redbirds as they fell behind early and were never able to catch up. Marquette led the entire first before finishing off Set #1, 25-21. 

In set #2, the Redbirds completely turned the tides. Illinois State jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead and never really looked back. The ‘Birds would go onto to lead the entire set and never let Marquette get close especially later in the set. Illinois State would eventually win the set, 25-18 to tie the best-of-five match up at 1 set, apiece. 

In set #3, it was almost the same story as set #2. Once again, Illinois State jumped all over Marquette with an early lead and never allowed the Golden Eagles to respond. The Redbirds would eventually win the set taking a 2-1 match lead. When the fourth set began, Illinois State was hoping they could finish off a tough Marquette team but the Golden Eagles had other plans. After a 6-1 Marquette lead to start the set, Illinois State called a timeout and went on to tie the set up at 9. It wouldn’t last long though as Marquette was determined to get the match to a 5th set. The Golden Eagles responded with multiple scoring runs before winning the set, allowing the Redbirds to a total of just 16 points. 

Set #5 began with a 5-1 Marquette run forcing Coach Johnson and the Birds to take a much-needed timeout. After talking things over, the Birds went on a 7-2 scoring run of their own tying up the set up at 8. With Illinois State tying the game, it was time for Marquette Head Coach, Ryan Theis to call a timeout. After the timeout, both teams went back and forth exchanging points causing Redbird Arena to explode. After multi points were scored and neither team able to get that decisive last point, Marquette finally finished things off 21-19, stunning Redbird Arena and breaking the hearts of Redbird fans.

“The fight at the end of set five…that’s why I love coaching this group,” said Johnson following the defeat. “It’s a pretty special team. I’m really proud of them and I’m really proud of where we’re going. We’re going to want this opportunity back but we’re going to be very proud we had it. As proud as we are of our effort, we want results.”

The Redbirds finish the Redbird Classic with an impressive 2-1 record and now have an overall record of 7-2.

Stef Jankiewicz who totaled a double-double; 46 assists with 13 digs and Kaylee Martin who led her team with 20 kills were both named to the Redbird Classic All-Tournament Team.

“The fact that we showed up the way we did, just shows what we’re capable of and how much left we have to grow so I’m really excited,” said Jankiewicz.

Illinois State will return to action on Friday at 9am when they open up the Buckeye Invitational in Columbus, Ohio.

Nick Imparo contributed to this story.