The Morehead State volleyball team's search for its first NCAA Tournament victory came up short Friday night (Dec. 6) as No. 18 Illinois knocked off the Eagles 3-0 (25-22, 25-21, 25-16) in the first round at Huff Hall.
Morehead State, the Ohio Valley Conference champions, concluded its season at 27-8. Illinois, which earned an at-large berth from the Big Ten Conference, upped its mark to 17-14 and will face No. 22 Marquette in the second round Saturday night.
"This was a great match," Head Coach Jaime Gordon said. "I was proud of the fight we showed, and I was really proud of all our fans and our support staff that made the trip up here despite some tough weather conditions. I think we represented our institution and the OVC well tonight."
Jocelynn Birks led the Fighting Illini with 16 kills while hitting .308 to go along with 12 digs. Liz McMahon tallied 10 kills and hit .400. Despite hitting only .183, Morehead State had an advantage in kills, 41-39.
"If you had told me before the match we would end up with more kills than Illinois, I would have called you crazy," Gordon added. "I was so proud of the way our offense ran tonight. A lot of that had to do with our passing too, and our setters did a nice job of putting our hitters in good positions."
MSU junior right-side hitter Alex Fitzmorris pounded 13 kills with only one error for a match-best .480 attack percentage.
"Alex got kills in a lot of different ways tonight," Gordon said. "When there were gaps and seams, she recognized that. For her to get 25 swings on the right side, that speaks a lot about our ball control."
Senior libero Leslie Schellhaas led all players with 16 digs. She finished her career as Morehead State's all-time dig leader with 2,232 and ranks fifth in OVC history. Illinois held a 45-41 advantage in digs and managed a .265 hitting percentage. The hosts also had seven blocks.
The match concluded the MSU careers of Schellhaas, outside hitter Aryn Bohannon and defensive specialist Lindsey Roth. Bohannon concluded her five years with 1,283 digs and 1,257 kills. Roth finished with 789 digs.
"It's hard to put in perspective just how much our seniors have meant to this program in the last four and five years," Gordon said. "But we talked about it in the locker room afterward, It's still a process, and these guys have continued a legacy. There will be other players after them, but they'll be just as important to this program years from now as they are right now."nament