The Illinois win, 25-22, 17-25, 20-25, 25-17, 15-9, ends Washington’s five-year stretch of qualifying for the NCAA Sweet 16.
Facing a tough opponent, the Washington volleyball team absorbed a tough, season-ending loss.
An athletic Illinois squad, the fifth-place finisher in the Big Ten, used an intense defensive effort to rally from a 2-1 deficit and defeat the eighth-seeded Huskies 3-2 in a second-round match of the NCAA tournament Saturday night in front of 3,048 at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The Illinois win, 25-22, 17-25, 20-25, 25-17, 15-9, ends Washington’s five-year stretch of qualifying for a tournament regional (round of 16). The Fighting Illini (23-10) will advance to face unseeded Michigan State in a regional semifinal hosted by top seed Penn State.
Pushed to a fifth set, the Huskies (25-8) led 2-1, fell behind 12-5 but cut the deficit to 12-8 on three straight Kara Bajema kills. The postseason hopes of seven UW seniors ended on a 3-1 Illinois run.
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“Congratulations to Illinois,” UW coach Keegan Cook said. “I thought they were pretty resilient there in the fourth set when I thought we had a good run going. They took some good high, hard swings in the fifth set.”
Washington opened the fourth set with a 4-1 lead and was still up 13-10 when Illinois suddenly cranked up its defensive presence, digging nearly every attack the Huskies fired over the net. UW committed 10 errors in the set, hit just .048 and watched the Illini finish the set on a 10-1 run.
“We did a few things defensively that we changed, just with our positioning,” first-year Illinois coach Chris Tamas said. “I think our floor defense picked up as the match went on.
“I told them in sets two and three when it wasn’t going our way, I liked a lot of the positions we were in. We just had to execute a little bit better. Sometimes it just takes a little time to get used to the rhythm, to get a good bead on them.”
Illinois outblocked Washington 13-9 for the match, 6-3 in the final two sets. Jacqueline Quade, a 6-foot-2 sophomore outside hitter, had a team-high 17 kills.
Bajema led UW with a season-high 26 kills, followed by seniors Carly DeHoog (17) and Courtney Schwan (14). The Huskies, who rely heavily on tough serving, finished with just two aces and six service errors.
Lineup changes Cook made in the final two weeks of the regular season, principally putting senior…