Volleyball sets up for next season with two touted recruits

By Meghan Montemurro

It was another big step forward for the Illinois volleyball program after signing two nationally ranked recruits Wednesday. With two scholarships to fill for the 2008 class, Michelle Bartsch and Keelin Bourne became the latest to join the Orange and Blue.

Bartsch, a 6-feet-3 outside hitter from Collinsville, was ranked No. 16 by prepvolleyball.com out of the 150 senior list – higher than any of the players in the Illini’s sixth-ranked recruiting class this past season. Illinois head coach Don Hardin is excited about the skills Bartsch will bring to the team.

“She has a unique playing style,” Hardin said. “We think it goes well with our system and our style of play.”

Despite her height, one of her better areas of play is her passing, which is unusual, especially in the back row. Bartsch will also have quite a bit of experience under her belt as she was a member of the 2007 U.S. Girls’ Youth National Training team that won a gold medal at the World Championships. She has also been named to the All-State team twice and looks forward to joining the Illini.

“I am excited to join the Illini team next year because they have been taking big steps in the right direction,” Bartsch said in a press release. “Playing volleyball at a high level is something I enjoy, and I feel I can do that at Illinois. The team and coaches are family oriented, which is an environment I am comfortable in.”

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Bourne, a 6-feet-3 right side hitter and setter, hails from Omaha, Neb.. and is only the second player from Nebraska to play for Illinois.

Going into last season, Bourne was named by Volleyball Magazine as one of the “25 underclassmen to watch.” Prepvolleyball.com ranked Bourne at No. 59.

“Versatility should be Keelin’s middle name,” Hardin said of the top ranked recruit out of Nebraska. “She just literally does everything including setting. She was recruited for just about every position at the Division I level.”

Both Bartsch and Bourne chose the Illini over some of the top programs in the country. Hardin is excited to see this season’s success and the previous recruiting class snowball and continue to bring in top players.

“Becoming a Fighting Illini is a wonderful opportunity,” Bourne said. “I chose the U of I because of the great coaching staff, the players were very welcoming, and the campus atmosphere just felt right. The way the team has battled this year and shown what great competitors they are makes coming to Illinois a dream come true.”

With all available scholarships handed out for the 2008 class, the future continues to look bright for the Illinois volleyball program.

“They saw the talent level of the other recruits in the ’07 class and saw how hard they are fighting and believed in their future,” Hardin said of his two recruits.