Volleyball captures State Farm Classic

Amy Palash hits the ball during the game against Marquette at Huff Hall in Champaign. Palash had 10 kills and six digs, helping Illinois win 3-0. Adam Babcock The Daily Illini

By Meghan Montemurro

The Creighton Bluejays put up a fight, but the Illinois volleyball team prevailed, winning in four games 30-22, 17-30, 30-25 and 30-22 to win the State Farm Illini Classic.

The team was without Kylie McCulley who is out for about three weeks due to a stress fracture. Senior Stefanie Alde was also sidelined with lower back problems. So Illinois turned to freshman Laura DeBruler and senior Vicki Brown for help.

“Offensively I thought we kept going after them, and it just shows that we have that attack mentality, which is awesome,” Brown said.

DeBruler led the offense with 19 kills while hitting .381 in her first home match. Brown, who earned Tournament MVP honors, also contributed 11 kills and hit .286. Both were named to the All-Tournament Team along with setter Lizzie Bazzetta.

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Illinois head coach Don Hardin was impressed with the senior’s performance.

“She is really coming into her own this year; this year she’s a player,” Hardin said. “She makes adjustments, she’s calm and she’s scoring easy when she can. She’s making some experienced plays.”

After taking out Marquette in the annual “Stuff Huff” game, bringing in 2,287 fans, the young squad faced an experienced Creighton team. Creighton’s three losses this season have come at the hand of ranked teams: No. 1 Nebraska, No. 18 Cal-Poly and No. 25 Middle Tennessee.

The Illini came back and took the first game from the Bluejays after some poor play to start the game. But after falling behind 8-2 in Game 2, Illinois dug a hole they couldn’t get out of. Its inabilities to pass and defend on serve receive led to its quick defeat in the second game, tying the match at 1-1.

Hardin made a defensive adjustment by playing Lea Zarytsky and Kristine Anderson to improve the pass game in place of Amy Palash. With a younger team, staying calm was also the key to the rebound.

Throughout the game, though, Creighton’s aggressive and solid defense posed a problem for the Illini offense. Creighton’s defense was strengthened by stretches of poor passes and poor hitting from the right side from Illinois.

“It’s a little frustrating, but it’s something that I have to learn from,” DeBruler said. “It’s definitely a learning experience.”

The Illini, however, were able to put the poor game behind them and came out hitting hard after the break. Johannah Bangert’s play at the net slowed down Creighton’s offense. She finished the game hitting .421 with nine kills.

“At the beginning Lizzie and I were a little off, but then definitely games three and four we were connecting,” Bangert said. “I thought we did really well, we had a lot of focus and a lot of excitement, especially at the end.”

Illinois will have a quick turnaround as they face Southern Illinois at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night at Huff Hall.