Volleyball falls short in invitational

By Meghan Montemurro

For the young volleyball squad, the upset victory was within its reach. But the Illini fell short in the fifth game, ultimately falling to the No. 22 LSU Tigers 3-2 and finished second in the Mizuno Invitational II.

The defense put up a strong fight, led by libero Ashley Edinger’s career-high 32 digs. Illinois outperformed the Tigers in most offensive categories, hitting .237 with 68 kills while LSU hit only .205 with 62 kills.

LSU was able to capitalize on the young team’s mistakes, though, verifying its status among the nation’s best. Senior Stefanie Alde said the team was able to forget and move on through the help of the balanced offense.

“We can quickly learn from our mistakes and move onto the next game without letting something carry onto the next game,” Alde said. “(Offensively) it is real hard for other teams to determine what is going to happen, and that plays into our favor.”

LSU’s upperclassmen took control of the game down the stretch. Head coach Don Hardin said the Illini had the game there for the taking, but they were “unable to close.”

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“We are just a swing or a serve away from being undefeated right now against nationally ranked opponents,” Hardin said. “I’m pretty impressed by how our young players are playing above and beyond their years.”

The balanced offensive attack saw four Illini finish with double-figure kills, led by freshman Laura DeBruler’s 17 and sophomore Kylie McCulley’s 16. Junior setter Lizzie Bazzetta finished the game with a double-double of 32 assists and 12 digs.

“I think it’s frustrating because we all knew that the win was within our reach,” Bazzetta said. “But we need to stay positive about how close we were, but we were a little disappointed by the outcome.”

After the tough loss, the Illini had a quick turnaround, finishing off the Rice Owls 3-0. With another balanced attack featuring four Illini with double-digit kills for the second straight game, Illinois took out the hometown host. Bazzetta was able to distribute the ball well, leading the team to hit .376 and a season-high .529 in game two.

Illinois finished the Invitational by sweeping Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi 3-0 behind strong performances from middle blockers Johannah Bangert and Vicki Brown, finishing with 13 and 11 kills, respectively. With the win, Illinois moved to 4-2 on the season.

“Vicki played outstanding and Alde really stepped up on the right side attack and block,” Hardin said. “All the younger players did an outstanding job and improved greatly from last weekend.”

While Illinois had been using a two-setter lineup, Hardin strayed away from it during the tournament.

“We went away from it because we weren’t hitting as well in rotations with Hillary (Haen) setting, and Lizzie was having a very good weekend, so we went with the 5-1,” Hardin said.

Illinois will look to practice hard before its home opener this weekend in the State Farm Illini Classic. With a solid start to the season, Hardin knows the outlook is positive.

“Of all the teams in the Big Ten, we stand as the one which can gain the most through the course of the season,” Hardin said. “Should we stay healthy, we have the experience to make a lot of progress.”