Volleyball team hopes to continue early success as it heads to Texas for challenging invitational

By Meghan Montemurro

Following a second-place finish last weekend at the Dayton Flyer Classic, the Illinois volleyball team will look to carry over its success to the Mizuno Invitational II in Houston, Texas.

It will be a challenge for the young squad as it plays No. 22-ranked Louisiana State, hometown favorite Rice and Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi. Junior setter Lizzie Bazzetta said the Illini expect good competition.

“This weekend we are definitely playing tough teams so we just have to keep doing what we have been working on and hopefully be able to compete and win some games,” Bazzetta said.

The tournament schedule is tough for Illinois, as it faces both LSU and Rice on Friday’s opening day. The defense looks to step up its game against LSU in order to get its first victory against a ranked non-conference opponent since September 11, 2004, when the team defeated then No. 1-ranked USC. Assistant coach Kevin Hambly said the Illini will have to stop junior Kyna Washington to defeat LSU.

“We are going to have to do a nice job against their left-side attack,” Hambly said. “She’s the potential SEC Player of the Year and if we do a good job against her and side out, we’ll have a chance to compete against them.”

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Head coach Don Hardin said his team will continue to use the two-setter lineup after the success last weekend and will practice with it during the week. The offense will look to senior Vicki Brown to lead the way as well as freshman outside hitter Laura DeBruler, who had 28 kills and 11 digs while hitting .323.

DeBruler’s performance was considered to be “one of the best ever by a freshman” by Hardin. Illinois has had nine American Volleyball Coaches Association All-Americans. Of those, none had double digit kills and only Erin Borske had double digit digs in their first game as freshmen.

The Illini begin play Friday at 10 a.m. against No. 22 LSU.