Iowa volleyball loses to Illinois in five sets

The Hawkeyes claimed the match’s first and fourth frames, but ultimately could not down the Illini.


Grace Smith

Iowa setter Bailey Ortega sets the ball during a volleyball game between Iowa and Illinois at Xtreme Arena in Coralville, Iowa, on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. The Fighting Illini defeated the Hawkeyes with a score of 3-2.

Dawson Moore, Sports Reporter

Iowa volleyball lost its first Big Ten Conference game of the 2021 season Wednesday night at Xtream Arena in Coralville. Iowa hosted Illinois and ultimately lost, 3-2.

The Hawkeyes claimed the match’s first set and then dropped the second to the Fighting Illini.

In the third set, Illini outside hitter Megan Cooney recorded five kills. Her efforts helped the Illini claim the set, 25-20, and take a 2-1 lead in the match. Cooney finished the game with 17 kills.

Iowa rolled through Illinois in the fourth set, 25-17, squaring the match up at 2-2. Hawkeye senior middle blocker Hannah Clayton produced two kills in the frame.

Illinois breezed past Iowa, 15-5, in the fifth and final set to win the game.

Hawkeye libero Maddie Slagle led Iowa with 24 digs Wednesday night, while junior defensive specialist Mari Hinkle amassed 21. Freshman outside hitter Addie VanderWeide also contributed to the count, racking up 19 digs.

“Looking at those four sets — six players on the court making plays — and it is a good moment to build on moving forward,” Hawkeye head coach Vicki Brown said in a release. “We almost had three people in our backcourt with 20 digs. That says a lot of how determined we are. As a program, we talk a lot about grit. You see that in that stat line. Courtney [Buzzerio] had 24 kills. Right side versus right side, she definitely won that game.” 


The Hawkeyes are now 2-9 overall and 0-1 in Big Ten play this season.

Sophomore setter Bailey Ortega gave up the lone setter role Wednesday night as the Hawkeyes’ utilized a 6-2 rotation with freshman Jenna Splitt.

Iowa still needs to improve its blocking capabilities — the Hawkeyes put up just eight blocks compared to Illinois’ 22 Wednesday.

But the Hawkeyes had a strong fourth set, earning an eight-point victory over the Illini. The Hawkeyes started the set with a three-point lead and did not relinquish it at any point during the frame.

“I think we definitely proved something to Big Ten teams,” senior outside hitter Courtney Buzzerio said. “Illinois has a good track record in Big Ten play, and I think what you saw in the fourth set is what we look like at our best.”


Splitt made her Hawkeye debut against Illinois Wednesday, splitting time at the setter position with Ortega.

Split finished the match with 20 assists and helped create opportunities for Buzzerio — who finished the five-set match with 24 kills.

Ortega accumulated 24 assists Wednesday night.


The Hawkeyes will travel to the Devaney Center Saturday to face off against No. 12 Nebraska. The Huskers are 7-3 on the season.

Nebraska was ranked fifth in the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s preseason poll. The Cornhuskers later dropped to No. 12 after they dropped three-straight matches to Louisville, Stanford, and Utah.

Last season, Iowa was 0-2 against Nebraska.

The Hawkeyes will take on the Huskers Saturday at 2 p.m. in Lincoln. The match will be streamed on BTN+.