BLOOMINGTON — The first time Illinois Wesleyan's volleyball team met the University of Chicago, the Titans swept to victory but all three sets were tight.
This time, IWU seemed determined to win convincingly.
After emphatic wins in the first two sets, the Titans completed a 25-15, 25-14, 25-19 triumph Thursday in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III regional before a charged crowd at Shirk Center.
“That was so much fun. Our fans were in the match from the get go and our players will probably remember this forever,” said IWU coach Kim Nelson-Brown.
Tyler Brown led the way for the Titans (23-7) with 17 kills and 21 digs, while Rachel Burkman followed with 10 kills and Kyleigh Block added nine. Heidi Dague had three solo blocks among her five while Maddie Williams had four block assists.
“This was a goal for us since the beginning of the season,” said Brown, the coach's daughter. “Making it here is just huge and it's been really fun so far.”
IWU's win put three College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin teams in the regional semifinals, joining Carthage and Millikin. The Titans advanced to face the Reds (26-8) in Friday's 7 p.m. semifinal, which follows a 4:30 p.m. matchup between the Big Blue (29-7) and defending national champion Calvin (27-3).
The championship match is set for 7 p.m. Saturday.
Kira Jackson had 23 assists and Caitlin Meyer added 20 for IWU. Sarah Muisinga topped Chicago with 12 kills while Emma Griffith had 25 assists and Anne Marie Stifter had 18 digs.
“We just ran into a team that was playing some great volleyball,” said Chicago coach Sharon Dingman, who previously coached at Illinois State. “We hit shots that against a lot of teams we play, a lot of nationally ranked teams, that would be kills and they weren't tonight. Then hitters start to get a little frustrated. Their defense was really spectacular.”
IWU never trailed in the first set, but truly seemed to seize control after making several defensive saves in an extended volley capped by a Block kill that made it 13-8.
“I think we had some big momentum plays, not only Heidi's blocking and Maddie's blocking. They came up huge at different times with some key blocks,” said Nelson-Brown.
“But we also had some great defensive digs and the momentum is built off of that. With that, our our setters did a great job mixing up the offense enough to keep their blockers guessing on which way the ball was going, which created one-on-one opportunities for our hitters.”
That volley seemed to knock the Maroons off their game. Dague's huge second block later pushed the lead to 23-14 and Brown finished off the set three volleys later with a strong kill.
“I do feel like some of those big, scrappy plays gave us the momentum,” said Brown. “Everyone was just flying on the floor, so just getting those touches means a lot. The crowd would get crazy and that helps a lot.”
Chicago took its first lead of the match to start the second set, but IWU stayed close and moved ahead at 7-6 when Williams and Burkman combined on a block. A Maroons net violation followed, prompting a timeout.
But the Titans steadily pulled away again. Another great defensive save led to a Brown kill that made it 19-13 in the midst of a 12-2 closing run that ended with another Burkman-Williams combo block.
IWU took the lead for good in the third set on three straight kills by Brown, followed by an ace by Williams, whose smash on set point completed the sweep.
“I think the key to finishing was just executing our game plan consistently,” said Block. “Mixing up our shots — we banging, banging, banging and then throwing a tip over — really kept them on their heels.”
The Titans will be hoping the third time is the charm as they seek to avenge two losses to Carthage, most recently in last week's CCIW Tournament semifinals.
“Carthage is a very strong team. They're very consistent and they find ways to get the ball up,” said Nelson-Brown. “We just have to come out, play our game, challenge that and counter that.”
Carthage tops Concordia: Shannon Kebiesek booked a match-high 21 kills and Megan Behrendt added 14 to go with 17 digs as Carthage moved past Concordia (Wis.), 25-23, 25-16, 14-25, 25-20.
Luci Krenzke amassed 20 digs while Kebiesek added 11 for the Reds, who also got 44 assists from Ellie LeCount. Haley Sedo and Holly Anderson notched 11 kills apiece for the Falcons (26-3).
Millikin blitzes Greenville: Erin Syversen totaled 15 kills while Alora Goodey and Emily Seegmiller added 11 apiece as Millikin toppled Greenville, 25-10, 25-15, 25-9.
Emily Mihalkanin had 31 digs and nine assists for the Big Blue. Greenville (26-8) only recorded 12 kills, with no player collecting more than three.
Calvin edges Washington: In the day's first match, Anna Kamp's 18 kills helped Calvin survive a 25-16, 25-15, 20-25, 23-25, 16-14 test from Washington (Mo.).
Jenna Lodewyk totaled 42 assists and Keilahna Castillo posted 23 assists for the Knights. Julianne Malek's 15 kills led the way for the Bears (24-10).