Strong defense leads volleyball team in win


Vicki Brown (2) returns the ball during the second game against Iowa Saturday, September 30th, 2006. The Illini beat Iowa 3 games to 1. Beck Diefenbach The Daily Illini

By Lucas Deal

Ashley Edinger and Lizzie Bazzetta each had 23 digs and Beth Vrdsky added 15 as the Illinois volleyball team used a fantastic defensive effort to beat Iowa 3-1 on Saturday night at Huff Hall.

Early in the season, the offensive prowess of Vicki Brown and Kayani Turner led the Illini to several non-conference wins, but since entering the Big Ten season, it has been Illinois’ defense that has made the difference.

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“I thought our defense, particularly Lizzie Bazzetta’s digs, was one of the key points in tonight’s match,” Illini head coach Don Hardin said. “In past matches, we might have had to have gone five games or lost this match, but tonight we were able to avoid that.”

Illinois opened Saturday’s match with an impressive 30-22 win in game one. The Illini held the Hawkeyes to a .029 hitting percentage in the game and recorded six blocks.

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    But Iowa responded well in game two, climbing out to an early lead and holding on for a 30-24 lead. Hawkeyes outside hitter Catherine Smale had nine kills in the game as the Hawkeyes hit a much-improved .261.

    After a 12-minute intermission, the Illini came back with a vengeance, winning games three and four by 30-21 margins.

    “In game two, we played decent defense, but Iowa hit balls into key positions that we had to transition out of and our second contacts were off,” Hardin said. “We misfired a lot on transition plays.

    “In games three and four, we really corrected our second contacts and we were much more patient with our digs.”

    Kayani Turner led all players with 23 kills in the contest, while Smale had 21 kills to lead the Hawkeyes. Amy Palash and Vicki Brown added 16 and 14 kills, respectively.

    For the match, the Illini held the Hawkeyes to a .157 hitting percentage while recording 13 blocks.

    “Our defense is something that we’ve worked on in practice and it’s something we’ve focused on,” Bazzetta said. “We made some adjustments against Iowa and I think that really showed.”

    Palash added, “I think defense is the heart of our team. I think without our defense and without our first contacts we couldn’t run an offense; and tonight especially we really showed our patience and our discipline.”

    The win moves the Illini to 11-3 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten. With the loss, Iowa falls to 11-5 and last place in the Big Ten at 0-4.

    “Having two wins against Big Ten opponents, one on the road and one at home, they’re all big,” Hardin said. “Now we head to Michigan’s (Michigan and Michigan State) with a plan to come back over the .500 mark and that’s what we’d love to do.”