Illinois upends No. 7 Kentucky in NCAA second round

Wildcats end season 25-5

LEXINGTON, Ky. (UK Athletics) – The 2021 Southeastern Conference champion Kentucky Volleyball team saw its season come to a close Saturday night, falling 3-1 to Illinois in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Volleyball Championship.

Illinois and Kentucky split the first two sets before the Illini played its best in the third and fourth matches to close out the match and take the 3-1 win.

With the win, Illinois advances to the Sweet 16 where it will play the winner of the Lincoln Sub-Regional in Austin, Texas.

Kentucky closes the season 25-5 overall and 17-1 in SEC play.

Set One

Illinois had three separate leads of three points or more in the first set, with its latest lead before the media timeout coming at 14-11. After UK trailed 8-5, Emma Grome pushed Kentucky to a 4-0 run on her serve to give Kentucky its first lead of the match at 9-8 before the Illini ran off two in a row to trade back the lead. The Fighting Illini led by a pair at 15-13 at the media timeout of the first set. Illinois stretched the lead using a 3-0 run to make it 18-14 and the run continued into the later parts of the set, taking a 20-16 lead on a Kentucky hitting error. Alli Stumler went offspeed to cap off a 3-0 run as Kentucky pulled to within one at 21-20 and Illinois called the first timeout of the set for either side with its lead trimmed to one point. UK tied the set for the first time since it was 10-10 at 21 all, and that was followed by back-to-back terminations from Illinois to make it 23-21 and the Wildcats called timeout down a pair. Illinois got an out-of-system swing from the left side to close out the first set, 25-22.

Set Two

The second set was extremely choppy in the early parts with what looked to be a 7-3 lead for Kentucky overturned on a challenge to make it 6-4 UK after four contacts was detected on the replay. After the Illini tied the set at 9-0, Madi Skinner had back-to-back terminations from the left side to make it 12-9 and a 3-0 run was stopped for UK after an Illini timeout called. The Kentucky lead grew to five at 18-13 off a hitting error from the Illini to force UI into their final stoppage in the frame. After Kentucky’s lead buoyed at five, Illinois won three points in a row to cut it to two at 20-18 and Kentucky called its first timeout of the set. Kentucky never trailed in the second set, closing out the frame with a 25-20 lead and hitting above .300 in the frame to close the set.

Set Three

The choppy start to sets trend continued in the third, as Illinois and Kentucky traded early punches before a 3-0 Illini run gave UI a 9-5 lead and trailing by four early points, Kentucky called its first timeout to talk things over. UK had to burn a second-successive timeout after Illinois went on another 3-0 service run to make it 14-6 and the Wildcats found themselves down eight. For the first time all season, Kentucky was held to under 15 points in a set, hit negative, and dropped the third set, 25-10.

Set Four

Illinois raced out to a 10-1 lead after a successful challenge to make their lead nine points. After the Illini garnered the large lead, Kentucky began to chip away and following two kills and a ball-handling error from Illinois, the gap shrunk to 12-8 as the four-point deficit was the closest the set had been since it was 5-1. Illinois called timeout following the ball-handling error and emerged with back-to-back kills to re-take a six-point lead, 14-8. The lead for Illinois ballooned to 16-10 and Kentucky called its final timeout trailing by half a dozen. Illinois closed the match out, 25-21

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