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    Northwestern Drops Land of Lincoln Clash at No. 18 Illinois

    Nov. 27, 2013

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    Illinois Fighting Illini No. 18 Illinois 3, Northwestern 0
    Huff Hall • Champaign, Ill. • Attendance: 1,734

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    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Northwestern went on the road for the final time during the 2013 regular season, but its bid for an upset ultimately fell short as the Wildcats dropped a tough 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 25-17) decision against No. 18 Illinois at Huff Hall Wednesday night.

    "Illinois came out with a lot of energy and got off to a quick start tonight," said Northwestern head coach Keylor Chan. "We pushed back hard several times, but were never able to get into a consistent rhythm. Every run that we made, they had an answer for.

    "We're looking forward to getting home on Saturday night and making a final push to reach our goal of the NCAA Tournament," added Chan. "Wisconsin is another tough test and we haven't seen them yet this season. It's a critical match for both teams and we're looking forward to the challenge."

    The Wildcats fell to 16-15 on the season with Wednesday evening's defeat and 8-11 in Big Ten play. Illinois moved to 16-13 on the season and picked up its 12th win in conference play.

    After NU's Katie Dutchman scored the first point of the evening on a kill, the Illini tied the score and went ahead for good in the opening frame. The Wildcats chopped an early four-point deficit down to one at 11-10 after another Dutchman termination, but Illinois produced an 8-1 run that proved to be too much for Northwestern to overcome. The 'Cats trailed by as many as seven before Stephanie Holthus delivered back-to-back-to-back kills to pull the squad to within four points, 21-17. Illinois called its first timeout of the match and responded by scoring four of the next five points to close out the set, 25-18.

    Northwestern was charged with only three attacking errors in the opening frame, only one of which was unforced. However, Illinois hit .500 with 20 kills to help put the 'Cats in a one-set hole. Holthus led NU with six kills in the first game, while libero Caroline Niedospial tallied six digs to start the match.

    The Wildcats fell behind early on in the second set, trailing by as many as six points on a couple of occasions. Undeterred, Northwestern clawed its way back and eventually took its first led of the frame, 16-15, after Savannah Paffen and Yewande Akanbi teamed up to block Maddie Mayers. Later on, Akanbi's kill put the Purple and White up a point, 19-18. Unfortunately that was the last lead that NU would hold as the Illini went on to win the second stanza, 25-23. Northwestern fought off Illinois' first shot at set point with a block from Dutchman and Maggie Burnham, but Holthus was stopped by Liz McMahon and Anna Dorn on the next sequence to allow the home team to escape with a victory.

    Akanbi provided a major spark off the bench for the Wildcats in the second set. The outside hitter buried five kills, while Holthus added four more. The Illini cooled off mightily in the second, hitting only .167 with eight errors, but it was still enough to put Northwestern in a 2-0 hole.

    A pair of kills from Dutchman and an ace by Niedospial gave the Wildcats an early 3-0 lead in the third set, but Illinois quickly orchestrated a 10-1 run that put it in the driver's seat for the duration. Northwestern would come as close as four points on four occasions, but it was unable to get completely back in contention as the Illini went on to win the third set, 25-17, and the match, 3-0.

    Holthus paced Northwestern's offensive attack on Thanksgiving Eve, dropping a team-best 13 kills. Ryan handed out 29 assists, Niedospial notched 12 digs and Burnham stuffed five blocks to lead the Wildcats against their instate rival.

    Northwestern will conclude the 2013 regular season at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30 at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Wildcats will welcome the 13th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers to Evanston for the only meeting between the two squads this season. Be sure to arrive early Saturday to catch a special ceremony before the match honoring Holthus, the lone senior on the 2013 roster, as she plays her last match ever at the home of the 'Cats.

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