Bazzetta spikes it up on court



By Meghan Montemurro

For the Illini faithful who have packed Huff Hall for the last seven years, the No. 12 jersey has been synonymous with the name Bazzetta. For the last three seasons, Lizzie Bazzetta has been making noise on the volleyball court, like her sister did before her.

Kathleen Bazzetta donned the Illini jersey for the last time in 2004 after four years with the team. But the No. 12 wasn’t retired for long. Upon her arrival to campus the following fall, Lizzie chose the same number as she followed in her sister’s footsteps.

They were big shoes to fill, but Lizzie has never lived in her sister’s shadow.

The junior setter from Naperville, Ill., has helped lead the turnaround of a volleyball program that had fallen to the bottom of the Big Ten.

Bazzetta was like everyone else as a kid, dabbling in different sports until settling on soccer and swimming.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

A huge soccer fan, she dreamed of attending the University of North Carolina to play soccer and follow in the footsteps of Mia Hamm. However, Bazzetta blew her knee out playing soccer in the sixth grade and was forced to stop playing.

The road to Illinois

It wasn’t until Bazzetta was a seventh grader at Kennedy Junior High in Naperville that she began playing volleyball. Her commitment to volleyball increased when she started up with Club Sports Performance her freshman year under Rick Butler. The move forced Bazzetta to give up all other sports.

“It was a huge time commitment,” Bazzetta said. “I went to school everyday and right from school I went to practice from 3:30 until 9 or sometimes even 10 at night, and we had only one day off each week, including weekends.”

Bazzetta’s devotion to the sport she loves paid off as the opportunity to play in college presented itself. But the route of her collegiate volleyball career almost did not stop in Champaign.

Despite older sister Kathleen, now 24, playing for head coach Don Hardin at Illinois, Bazzetta was determined to go to school farther away. Illinois had not even been considered an option early on in the recruiting process, instead focusing on and visiting schools along the east coast, such as Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina.

Bazzetta’s outlook changed during her junior year of high school at Naperville North. After making the switch from hitter to setter, Illinois turned its attention toward the potential recruit. After that, staying close to home wasn’t much of a bother.

“Every single person in my family that came here had a great experience, and they love coming back here to visit,” Bazzetta said. “Ever since I was little I would come down here to watch games, so I had a strong tie to Illinois and wanted to be here.”

One of the perks of having an older sister on the team is knowing what to expect from the coaches and the program. After arriving on campus freshman year, Bazzetta did not get into the lineup right away. Injuries plagued the team early in the 2005 season, so Bazzetta became Illinois’ starting setter against Michigan in October.

She has remained a fixture in the lineup ever since.

The successful freshman campaign carried over to her sophomore season as Bazzetta finished the year ranked sixth in the nation and led the Big Ten in assists per game at 13.64. With her junior season halfway done, Bazzetta has helped lead the Illini to a 10-4 overall record.

A family affair

Family has played a large role in Bazzetta’s success. Her three sisters, Sarah, 26, Kathleen, and Julie, 17 share a close bond and led her to call them her “best friends” and can also be attributed for Bazzetta’s competitive nature.

Bazzetta, whose first name is Elizabeth, started going by Lizzie after her best friend started the nickname as a child, much to the dislike of her mother.

“My mom didn’t like it at first and my younger sister called me ‘E’ because she couldn’t say Elizabeth, but ever since I can remember I’ve been Lizzie, but my sisters like the name Elizabeth so they’re trying to go back,” Bazzetta said with a smile.

Her parents Bob and Mary Jean make sure to try and make every home game to cheer her daughter on. Bazzetta said she appreciates her parents support and said that they never pushed her or her sisters to play sports.

“They have influenced me to do well in school,” Bazzetta said. “They want what’s best for me and they support me 100 percent.”

As the starting setter for the re-emerging volleyball program at Illinois, the word shy isn’t usually the first word that comes to mind to describe a team leader. But off the court, that is just the case for Bazzetta.

“I couldn’t give a speech in front of 15 people, but I could play up in Huff all day long,” Bazzetta said.

Mother Hen

When Bazzetta’s name is brought up among teammates and coaches, she is always referred to as the “mother” of the team. Bazzetta garnered the role of mother for a reason; with four seniors on the team, only one, Stefanie Alde, is older than Bazzetta.

“My mom has told me that I’m mature for my age,” Bazzetta said. “I was a middle child, so I looked out for my younger sister.”

More than the age factor is her ability to look out for her teammates and make them better people. Plus the occasional funny joke or story doesn’t hurt.

“When’s she out there, she brings out the best in everybody,” sophomore Ashley Edinger said. “Not only is she a great setter and a great leader, but she’s a great teammate.”

While only a junior, Bazzetta’s leadership has been evident during practices and games, receiving only praise from her teammates and coach. A self described good listener, Bazzetta has helped the team fight through some tough, injury-riddled seasons.

“She has some natural leadership abilities,” Hardin said. “Everybody is ready to listen to what she has to say and everybody’s ready to follow her.”

Senior Vicki Brown has grown up with Bazzetta on the volleyball court for the last three seasons and had fun watching the progress that has been made.

With long days spent on the court at Huff Hall and traveling every other weekend, there hasn’t been much free time in Bazzetta’s life. But when those few hours are available during the day, she enjoys reading books, like her favorite, “My Sister’s Keeper.”

A student-first athlete

The intensity and hard work doesn’t end on the court. Balancing volleyball with pre-med classes is no easy task.

With her eyes set on medical school or physician’s assistant school with an emphasis on sports, the time and effort put in are necessary. From hard physiology classes to the fun statistics class with Professor Ellen Fireman, Bazzetta makes sure to balance athletics with academics

“It’s a huge time commitment,” Bazzetta said. “I’m always studying, always having to try and fit in lab time, and if I’m not at practice I’m usually at class or the lab.”

Misconceptions exist regarding athletes and the supposed “easy” majors. While the notion bothers Bazzetta at times, she knows that there is not a sure future for women in sports and a good education is necessary.

Athletically, Bazzetta brings it all to the setter position from blocking to hitting and jumping leading her to be called “one of the best in the conference when she’s on” by Hardin. She is proud of her junior and senior teammates who haven’t given up despite struggles the past few years. While Bazzetta has faced steady competition from freshman Hillary Haen, she welcomes it.

“The competition she has provided has made me better, it’s made her better,” Bazzetta said. “It’s rough to always have to earn my spot everyday, but it’s good she came in and help make this team much better.”

When the chapter closes on her Illinois volleyball career, Bazzetta will leave her mark on a program on the rise.

“She is a smart, persistent, hard-working person who puts the team first,” Hardin said. “She epitomizes Illinois.”

While Bazzetta may not be the most recognizable or flashy player on the Illini, without her leadership and competitiveness, Illinois would surely be missing an influential leader.