The loss snapped the Huskers’ eight-match win streak and perfect month of November. Nebraska dropped to 20-8 overall and 14-5 in the Big Ten, while Illinois moved to 23-7 and 15-4 in conference play. The Illini improved their home record to 11-1 this season.
Kadie Rolfzen had a team-high 19 kills with 11 digs. Kelsey Fien added 13 kills, and Amber Rolfzen had eight kills and 10 digs with five blocks. The Huskers outblocked Illinois 16-10, led by 10 blocks from Cecilia Hall. But Nebraska committed 11 service errors and hit just .146 for the match, while Illinois hit .232 and outdug NU 78-69.
Mary Pollmiller had 39 assists, and Justine Wong-Orantes had a team-high 20 digs.
Jocelynn Birks led the Illini with 22 kills and added 10 digs. Michelle Strizak had 15 kills, and Liz McMahon had 13. Morganne Criswell, who had 21 kills against the Huskers in Lincoln on Oct. 18, sat out the first four sets with an injury but came in to the match in set five to post four kills and lead the Illini in the decisive set.
Illinois broke free from a 5-5 tie in set one with a 7-0 run to stake a 12-5 lead. Strizak had three kills and a block in that stretch. Two kills by Fien and a Hall/Pollmiller block cut it to 12-8, but the Illini quickly restored the seven-point lead at 16-9 and pushed it to 22-13 before settling on the 25-16 win. The Huskers hit just .032 in the set with eight attacking errors.
Illinois led set two 9-7 before a Fien kill and block by Amber Rolfzen and Hall to tie it at 9-9. After trading sideouts, the Huskers strung together three straight with an Illini hitting error, Kadie Rolfzen kill and Annika Albrecht ace for a 13-10 lead. NU went up 17-13 on back-to-back kills by Amber and Kadie Rolfzen. Leading 18-15, the Huskers got a kill from Pollmiller and ace serve from Kadie Rolfzen for a 20-15 lead. Two more kills from Fien helped put the Huskers up 23-18 before Illinois drew within 23-20. But after Nebraska called timeout to set up an attack for Kadie Rolfzen, the Huskers had set point at 24-20. Illinois fought off two set points, but again out of a timeout the Huskers ran a play to set up Kadie Rolfzen, and she delivered the winning point to give the Huskers the 25-22 win and even the match.
The teams engaged in a sideout battle early in the third set before Illinois gained a 14-9 lead with a 4-0 run. Nebraska came back, sparked by a spectacular dig by Albrecht leading to a Kadie Rolfzen kill, and then an Albrecht kill of her own to get within 14-12. But the Illini went up 17-12 with kills by Birks and Ali Stark around a Husker attacking error, and after Illinois went up 18-13, the Huskers never got closer than five points again. NU fought off two set points down 24-16, but the Illini finished the 25-18 win to go up 2-1.
A tremendous hustle play in the fourth set that saw Kadie Rolfzen fly into the bench and Sydney Townsend dig up three near kills led to a Husker block to tie the fourth set at 9-9. NU went up 12-11 on a kill by Amber Rolfzen, but the Illini went on a key 5-0 run to lead 16-12. The Huskers got within 17-15 on a Townsend service ace, and a Fien kill cut it to 19-18. But back-to-back kills by McMahon put Illinois up 21-18 and forced the Huskers’ final timeout. The Huskers pulled within 22-21 after a Hall/Amber Rolfzen block and kill by Hall, and Illinois took a timeout. After the timeout, Albrecht tallied her third ace of the night to tie the set 22-22. Back-to-back Kadie Rolfzen kills gave the Huskers set point at 24-23, but Birks took one swing to tie it 24-24. However, Kadie Rolfzen completed the comeback with two more kills to record the Huskers’ last four kills of the set for a 26-24 win.
After the Huskers took a 1-0 lead in set five, Birks went out with an injury for the Illini. But they subbed in Criswell, who had been sitting out injured until then. Criswell – who had 21 kills against the Huskers on Oct. 18, immediately posted three kills on five swings to put Illinois up 5-4. Amber Rolfzen killed to tie it 5-5, but the Illini took the next three points for an 8-5 lead before the teams switched sides. The Huskers got within 9-7 after an Illini service error, but a service error of their own, followed by a collision going for the ball put Illinois up 11-7. Criswell’s fourth kill of the set made it 13-8 Illini. NU pulled within 13-10 after a stuff by Hall and Kadie Rolfzen, but the Huskers’ 11th service error of the night gave Illinois match point, and the Illini won 15-10 after a Husker attacking error.
Nebraska closes the regular season on Saturday at No. 4 Penn State at 7:30 p.m. (CT) on Big Ten Network.