Volleyball loses to Dayton in tourney

By Meghan Montemurro

Despite a second-place finish and a heart-breaking loss to Dayton at the Dayton Flyer Classic, the Illinois women’s volleyball team looked at the positives. The team had all-around solid performances, and the freshmen played with maturity and poise.

In the first match of the tournament, the Illini faced a veteran Bowling Green team that had 12 of 13 players returning. Illinois head coach Don Hardin said Bowling Green was a formidable opponent.

“They are a good, well-seasoned team who know each other well,” Hardin said. “They came out smoking, but we stepped up to the challenge.”

The play of freshman Laura DeBruler provided steady offense for the Illini. DeBruler tallied 28 kills against Bowling Green leading Hardin to call it “one of the best performances for a freshman that I’ve seen.” After having her first taste of the collegiate game, DeBruler said despite some nerves, it was a fun experience.

“I wanted to come out fired up,” DeBruler said. “The setters felt that they could trust me and after being a little bit nervous, I settled down.”

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Fellow freshman Johannah Bangert also had a strong debut finishing the game hitting .588 with 11 kills and two block assists. DeBruler, along with senior Vicki Brown, were named to the All-Tournament team.

After the impressive performance against Bowling Green, Illinois carried the momentum into the next game against Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Hardin said one key to victory was the consistent passing game and their high hitting percentage.

“Everyone was on fire against (IPFW),” Hardin said. “It was a team effort.”

A team effort was needed against tournament host Dayton. However, after five hard-fought games, the Illini ultimately fell to the Flyers. With the atmosphere likened to that of a Big Ten conference road game, both DeBruler and Brown acknowledged that this experience will only help the team in the long run.

“It was pretty crazy,” DeBruler said. “We all wanted to beat (Dayton).”

As the team was looking for senior leadership, it was found in Brown. Hardin said Brown made few errors and “played like a senior.” In the championship game against Dayton, Brown stepped up hitting .519 with 19 kills. Illinois was unable to execute and put away the match in the fourth set resulting in a five-set loss. Even with the defeat, Brown said the young team idea did not come into play.

“The freshmen are so into being competitive that there was no difference with them being on the court,” Brown said. “It didn’t seem like there were freshmen playing.”

Hardin said he was especially impressed with his team’s performance against Dayton because they faced the Flyers on their home court. He added Dayton has a good chance of making the NCAA Tournament.

With a week off, Hardin said that while he is happy with where the team is at this point in the season, the Illini will look to continue to improve on the 6-2 lineup with the two setters as well as working with the freshmen to continue to help them learn the system. On Friday Illinois will travel to Houston, Texas, for the Mizuno Invitational II. The first game is at 10:30 a.m. against the Louisiana State University Tigers.