Illinois freshman stands out in Big Ten

Freshman Laura DeBruler spikes the ball past Michigan on Saturday. Erica Magda

Johnny Chiang

Freshman Laura DeBruler spikes the ball past Michigan on Saturday. Erica Magda

By Meghan Montemurro

For Laura DeBruler, donning the No. 1 orange and blue jersey stands for more than just a number.

At 5-feet-11, DeBruler may not be the most intimidating outside hitter, but she is one of the more dominating ones in the Big Ten. As of Nov. 4, DeBruler leads the conference with 5.0 kills per game, which is also good for 15th in the country.

And she is only a freshman.

After tallying 13 kills against Michigan on Saturday, DeBruler eclipsed 500 kills for the season and her final total will set the new freshman mark. DeBruler has been averaging 20.17 kills per match, a pace that would give her 605 kills for the year – the third most in school history.

If she continues her impressive play, DeBruler will finish the season leading the Big Ten in kills per game, which would be only the fourth time in conference history a freshman accomplished the feat. In Illinois volleyball history, only three players have led the Big Ten in kills per game: Lorna Henderson in 1991, Erin Borske in 1995, and Rachel VanMeter in 2005.

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Illinois head coach Don Hardin sees her as one of a kind.

“I think she is absolutely remarkable,” Hardin said of the Downers Grove native. “I’ve only seen a few players in my entire career handle their freshman year with so much composure, and she does everything for us. She is a complete player.”

Comparisons are already being drawn between the freshman and the 1988 National Player of the Year, Mary Eggers. DeBruler sees it as an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence with the player whose banner hangs in the rafters at Huff Hall.

“That’s a real honor when people say that,” said DeBruler, who came in just looking to crack the starting lineup. “I really try not to think about becoming something like that because if I think about it too much, I just won’t play my game, so hopefully I can go out there and have good things happen.”

While her statistics are impressive, the person behind the jersey stands out as well. Despite approaching and setting several Illinois records, DeBruler doesn’t dwell on the individual accomplishments – such as 500 kills in a season.

“That’s kind of ridiculous actually,” DeBruler said. “I mean, it’s awesome, but honestly I don’t think about it, and for me, it’s all about the team aspect and getting to the NCAA Tournament.”

Seemingly quiet and low-key off the court, DeBruler is the opposite come game time. DeBruler’s hustle and determination are only part of her game that elevates her to be one of the best on the court. Whether it is diving headfirst toward the scorer’s table just to get a touch or chasing after a tipped ball, Debruler’s motor is constantly running. Her energy has helped spark the team, especially in critical moments.

“Kills are awesome, but getting that dig that you barely get your finger tips on; it’s just so much fun and exciting,” DeBruler said. “Feeding off of that, it really gets our team fighting and helps our team with motivation.”

Not only is she being recognized at Illinois, but opponents around the Big Ten are taking notice as well.

“She’s going to be a tough player,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said after Saturday’s game against the Illini. “I think she is doing a great job and has had a great year.”

Hardin has no doubt that DeBruler will leave a mark on the program when her time comes to a close at Illinois.

“I’m sure at the end of her four years she will end up being a record-breaker in many categories because she is out there doing everything,” Hardin said.

“She is a crowd favorite because she is out there doing her best and inspires the other players from her effort and people really enjoy watching her,” Hardin added.