The University of Colorado volleyball team made history Saturday by sweeping No.5-ranked Illinois, 3-0 (30-28, 25-19, 25-20), the first top-10 victory under head coach Jesse Mahoney and just the second-ever top-five upset not at home and second-ever sweep of a top-five opponent.
Colorado remains perfect with a 5-0 record for just the third time in school history after sweeping the Illini (2-2) who lost to No.16 Washington in five the night before. CU is now 15-1 in sets, a mark matched only by the 2008 squad that started the season 6-0 and were 18-1 in set wins to begin the season.
“Really fun, exciting match. I’m really proud of the growth of this team in a short amount of time, ” Mahoney said. “That’s a team that was just in the Final Four that has a ton of talent on it. I thought that we did a really nice job controlling the match early and we withstood runs in set one, set two, set three and found a way to separate at the end. I thought our two outside hitters were fantastic. Jenna did a fantastic job spreading the ball around. Really a total team effort and we are looking forward to celebrating this for a day then we have some tough matches coming up, that’s the way it is.”
The Buffs were efficient hitting all weekend, cumulating in a .462 team hitting percentage against the Illini, the highest since 2014 when the team hit .549 against Robert Morris and just the fifth time hitting greater than .400 in the past decade. Colorado hit .542 in the final set without an error.
CU only had one unforced hitting error during the match. The team only committed eight total errors, but seven of those came from being blocked.
Justine Spann led the Buffs with 16 kills and a career-high .560 hitting percentage. She was joined by freshman Jill Schneggenburger who had 12 kills with a .611 hitting percentage. Sterling Parker added in six kills and a .364 percentage. CU had five of its six hit .300 or better.
“It definitely helps being the underdog, being the team that people don’t expect to win games like this. I absolutely love the pressure, that’s the best part about being the underdog,” Spann said. “Going on the road, our team is very young and it’s really difficult for us sometimes as far as experience goes, but honestly we are playing like veterans right now and I couldn’t be more proud of this team. Super excited to see how the rest of the season goes, but we can’t bank on these wins, we need to continue to win as preseason and conference play goes on.”
Dishing out with near perfection today was sophomore setter Jenna Ewert with 31 assists. She led the team for the fourth-straight match in digs with six.
Defensively, CU had six recorded blocks and numerous more pressured that forced attack errors on Illinois. Meegan Hart was the anchor of the defense with five recorded block assists. She has recorded five blocks in the past three matches, averaging 1.37 blocks per set this season.
The biggest differences between the two teams were the serving game and errors in the third set. Illinois hit .467 and .417 in the first two sets, respectfully, but CU held them to just a .100 hitting percentage in the third. Both teams had seven aces during the match, but Illinois committed 12 service errors compared to CU’s six.
Mahoney is now 6-2 in the Pac-12/BIG TEN Challenge. This was his first top-five win and he now has coached two of the three best starts in school history. This is the first top-five victory not at home since the 1997 team defeating Nebraska in Lincoln in five. That team also had the only top-five sweep until today, defeating the same Husker team 20 days later at home.
Colorado has a short week to prepare for the first home-and-home doubleheader with Colorado State this Thursday and Friday.
Colorado 3, No. 5 Illinois 0
Colorado 30 25 25
Illinois 28 19 20
Kills — CU: Spann, Justine (16), Schneggenburger, Jill (12), Parker, Sterling (6); ILL: Quade, Jacqueline (15), Cooney, Megan (9), Fleming, Ashlyn (8)
Aces — CU: Perry, Savannah (3), Ewert, Jenna (1), Neverdowski, Zoe (1); ILL: O’Brien, Morgan (3), Welsh, Caroline (1), Bruder, Kylie (1)
Blocks — CU: Hart, Meegan (6), Parker, Sterling (2), Schneggenburger, Jill (2); ILL: Fleming, Ashlyn (3), Quade, Jacqueline (3), Cooney, Megan (2)
Assists — CU: Ewert, Jenna (31), Whipple, Rachel (2), Neverdowski, Zoe (1); ILL: Brown, Diana (30), O’Brien, Morgan (2), Welsh, Caroline (1)
Digs — CU: Ewert, Jenna (6), Spann, Justine (5), Whipple, Rachel (4); ILL: Brown, Diana (6), O’Brien, Morgan (3), Fleming, Ashlyn (1)