Illinois Ends USC's Season With Five-Set Win At 2011 NCAA Final Four|
Dec. 15, 2011
SAN ANTONIO - Colleen Ward posted 27 kills and 22 digs Thursday as the No. 3 seed Illinois Fighting Illini advanced to the 2011 national championship with a five-set win over the No. 7 seed USC Women of Troy (25-27, 25-18, 25-22, 18-25, 15-10) in a national semifinal played in front of 10,525 at The Alamodome. USC was attempting to become the first team in NCAA women's volleyball tournament history to advance to the title match with three straight five-set wins, but could not hold off the Illini in the final stanza.
Senior All-American Alex Jupiter, who had only seven kills through the first two sets, recorded 23 kills in the third and fourth sets to finish with 32 kills. Jupiter missed her career best of 33, set last weekend in the regional semifinal at Hawai'i. Senior All-America setter Kendall Bateman finished with a season-high 65 assists to go with 13 digs and tying her season best with four blocks for USC (29-5).
Senior All-American middle blocker Lauren Williams (Houston, Texas) was one off her career best with 18 kills while hitting .448 for the Women of Troy. Sophomore All-American libero Natalie Hagglund finished her season with 31 digs, two of her career high. Katie Fuller chipped in 11 kills while Sara Shaw added eight kills and 18 digs, one of her career high.
Michelle Bartsch helped Illinois (32-4) with 22 kills, 22 digs and four blocks while setter Annie Luhrsen had 66 assists and 11 digs as the Fighting Illini out-hit USC by a .279 to .233 margin. Erin Johnson tallied 12 kills and seven blocks while hitting .455 while Liz McMahon came up huge with 10 kills and six blocks. McMahon posted five of her kills in the fifth set.
"Well, I guess I'd like to start by congratulating Illinois," said USC head coach Mick Haley. "I thought they played a heck of a match. They stepped up at the right time, and they did an excellent job. We're really proud of our team. We think we've done about everything we could do to have a chance at this championship. So we don't have any regrets. We played as hard as we could play."
Williams led out with four kills as USC took the early 5-3 lead in the first set. Alexis Olgard and Fuller went back-to-back for the 8-5 USC advantage before Ward and McMahon brought the Fighting Illini back with kills, 8-7. Williams kept it at 11-8, but McMahon started four points as Illinois took its first lead, 12-11. Fuller had two straight kills to put USC back on top at 14-12 as Williams was later able to win a joust to make it 15-14 for the Trojans at the media timeout. At 17-17, Jupiter delivered from the back row with an Olgard/Bateman block putting USC back in the lead by two. Ward and Bartsch tied it again for Illinois and both teams worked to a 22-22 score. Fuller terminated and an Illini misfire gave set point to USC at 24-22. Ward and Bartsch kept Illinois alive at 24-24, but a service error gave set point back to USC. Ward tied it again, but an over the net call against Illinois and block from Olgard and Bateman gave USC the first set.
Luhrsen's sneak attack sparked a 7-1 run early in the second set for the 12-7 lead. Jupiter would get USC within one at 13-12, but the Illini would use Ward and Bartsch to finish strong as another 6-2 streak would help them to tie the match. Illinois used the intermission to take a 10-6 lead in the third set. Jupiter used three kills to get the Women of Troy back within one, 12-11. A USC hitting error made it a 15-12 score for Illinois, but the Trojans would fight back again and take the 18-17 lead on Bateman's service ace. Jupiter scored two more kills with Ward responding with two of her own. Williams and Jupiter made it a three-point lead, but the turning point would come as Shaw's attempt on the next point went long. The error energized Illinois with six straight points to stun the Trojans and put them in a 2-1 hole again.
Both teams battled in the fourth set before Williams and Jupiter again helped their team take the 12-9 lead. Bartsch would get the Illini within two at 15-13, but Jupiter then took over with eight kills to finish off the set as the 6-1 run sent the match into the deciding set.
McMahon used three kills early to get Illinois to the 5-4 lead. Hagglund's service ace put USC up, 6-5 before Bartsch then tied it. Jupiter would keep USC ahead, 9-8, but Ward tied it and two blocks from Anna Dorn and McMahon would propel Illinois to the victory with the final point coming on a long and exciting rally that finished on USC's attempt going long.
Illinois faces UCLA in the national championship match at 7:30 p.m. Central (5:30 p.m. Pacific) on ESPN2 and ESPN3.
Notes: USC made back-to-back Final Four appearances for the first time since three straight appearances from 2002-04 (which included back-to-back national titles in 2002 and 2003)...tonight was USC's first loss in seven tries when splitting the first two sets of the match...USC has made seven NCAA Final Four appearances in the last 12 years...Alex Jupiter finishes her Trojan career with three school records: kills (1,918), points (2,255.5) and attempts (4,759)...with one solo block tonight, Jupiter finishes in a tie for third place on USC's all-time list for solo blocks (123 with Leslie Devereaux, 1982-85)...she moved past Nicole Davis into 10th place on USC's career list for digs (1,094) by just one dig...Jupiter finished the season with 57 service aces, placing her third on USC's single-season list...Kendall Bateman finishes her career with the school record for total assists (4,510)...her 11.25 career assist per set average places her fifth on the school's all-time list...Lauren Williams finishes her career with a .377 career hitting percentage, the second highest percentage in school history...Natalie Hagglund now has 1,093 career digs, one behind Jupiter on the school's all-time list...her current 4.54 career digs per set average places her second all-time at USC...Alex Jupiter finished with 514 kills on the season, good for sixth place on USC's single-season list...Jupiter becomes the only USC player in history to record 500 kills in a season three times...Jupiter's 0.50 service aces per set average is the second-highest on the school's single-season list...Kendall Bateman's 1,395 assists for the season places her sixth on USC's single-season list...Natalie Hagglund's 596 digs for the season are the third-highest in school single-season history with her 5.14 digs-per-set average placing her fourth on USC's single-season list...USC loses only three players for next year's team, but all three players lost are All-Americans (Alex Jupiter, Kendall Bateman and Lauren Williams)...USC won the inaugural Pac-12 Conference regular season championship and finished the season by winning 24 of its final 26 matches.
USC 27-10-18-22-10 ILL 25-25-25-18-15