Sunday, December 18, 2011

Championship Dreams Blocked

It's probably more fun to win the last game of the season than it is to lose, and there's not much comfort in the fact that you played the last game of the season. But what a season, girls!

The Illini volleyball team fell to the UCLA Bruins 3-1 in the NCAA National Championship Saturday night. The girls fought hard, but nerves must have been an issue, as they made some uncharacteristic mistakes - the most obvious being the 11 service errors.

One surprise of this match was how the taller Illini struggled against the UCLA block. That stat belonged to the Bruins. And they made fewer mistakes.

Momentum was a another major factor. The first set was tight the whole way, with UCLA winning 25-23. The Illini trailed in the second set, but caught fire at the end to win 25-23. And they carried that momentum into the third set, leading most of the way. But then the Illini choked, and lost a couple set points, allowing UCLA to come back to win 26-24. After that, it was all Bruins, who cruised to the championship 25-16 in the fourth set.

The Illini were led, as usual, by outside hitters - and seniors - Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward. These girls will be missed next year, but they've left a legacy of winning. The experienced gained by younger players in this tournament run should serve the program well in the coming years.

The loss hurts, but thank you, girls, for solidifying the Illini as a national presence in collegiate volleyball. Although this was the first time we played in the last game of the year, I'm confident it won't be the last.

Go Illini!


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