Volleyball registers home win



By Meghan Montemurro

An emotional weekend ended on a positive note for the Illinois volleyball team. Despite dropping a tough, five-game match against the Northwestern Wildcats on Friday, the Illini bounced back Saturday, coming out on top in four against Michigan State.

The victory against the Spartans marks the first at home in Huff Hall in conference play. Illinois had previously been 0-6.

“I feel like this is for the fans as much as it was for the girls,” assistant head coach Kevin Hambly said. “First, it was great for the girls to get this win because they were working real hard, and there’s this 580-pound monkey on their backs and hopefully that’s lifted now, but also the fans have been through it with us, and I’m just really happy we got it for them.”

Hambly took over head coaching duties this weekend after head coach Don Hardin had a family emergency. The victory does count toward Hardin’s record, and moves him only one away from 400 wins for his career.

Coming out of the break tied at one game apiece, the intensity was evident as the Illini scrapped out a 30-28 victory. Illinois left everything out on the court during game four. In a match that went back and forth, the freshmen started to take over the game for the Illini.

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After falling behind Michigan State 6-2 in game four, the serving game stepped up. Freshman Johannah Bangert served 11 straight points, which included an ace as Illinois ran off 12 straight points to take a 14-6 lead, controlling the momentum.

After a block by Bangert and Haen to put Illinois up 29-25, DeBruler fittingly ended the game on an unstoppable kill.

“You knew that she was going to get that, there was no question,” Hambly said.

On Friday against Northwestern, the Illini dropped another five-game match, bringing their record to 1-8 when going all five.

With freshman Hillary Haen making the start at setter against Northwestern on Friday, Illinois went with a change coming out of the intermission. Junior Lizzie Bazzetta got the call and promptly helped lead the offense to a .306 hitting percentage as a team.

“We weren’t in a good rhythm and felt like it was time to make a switch,” Hambly said of the setter situation.

Freshman Laura DeBruler led Illinois with 22 kills along with 18 digs. In her third game back from a foot injury, sophomore Kylie McCulley tallied 17 kills.

In a defensive battle, libero Ashley Edinger led the Illini with 37 digs.

As a whole, the team had 108 in the game compared to the Wildcats’ 84 to go along with 12 team blocks. The blocking game has been a work in progress this season.w

“It’s something we focus on a lot and we’re getting better steadily,” Hambly said. “It’s a different blocking game from high school to college, and it takes some time to catch on.”

Coming out to face the Spartans, a win was needed in order to stay in contention for a possible NCAA tournament bid. Even though she was pulled from the Northwestern game, Haen got the starting call and stepped up to the challenge, in one of her best performances so far in her early career. Haen had 58 assists along with 10 digs while leading the dynamic offense and “felt much more comfortable” on the court.

DeBruler had a dominating performance, posting 31 kills while hitting a .397 attack percentage along with 13 digs, further making her case for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. “Laura’s 31 kills were remarkable,” Hambly said. “Her composure and determination on the court scored us those key points. She took over the match for us and got us this win.”

DeBruler was complimented by her middle counterpart, senior Vicki Brown, who added 13 kills for the game.

While it was an important victory, Illinois will have to turn its attention toward its midweek opponent, Wisconsin.

The Illini will face the Badgers on Wednesday.