Illinois completes Europe trip with 9-1 record

Photo courtesy Craig Pessman Photo courtesy Craig Pessman

Photo courtesy Craig Pessman Photo courtesy Craig Pessman

By Meghan Montemurro

For the members of the Illinois volleyball team, the opportunity to compete in Europe was not a bad way to spend part of their summer.

During the team’s eight-day trip that spanned from May 20-28, Illinois went 9-1 overall and won two tournaments against top competition in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia.

Head volleyball coach Don Hardin said that not only did his young squad play well, but they also performed better than other Big Ten teams that had made the trip in the past.

“It’s the best volleyball we’ve played in a long time,” Hardin said. “We had excellent performances.”

Standout individuals included sophomore Laura DeBruler, who was named Tournament MVP in Belluno, Italy, and junior Ashley Edinger, who earned Best Defensive Player of the Tournament. Senior Lizzie Bazzetta was named Best Setter for her efforts. Johannah Bangert, a sophomore, earned Tournament MVP in Rogla, Slovenia.

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“At least three or four of these matches we were predicted to lose,” Hardin said. “Now this squad understands what they can do physically.”

Sophomore Hillary Haen enjoyed the overseas experience and said the team took away more than just a good record.

“It was really cool; we got to play a lot of good teams,” Haen said. “Just even being away together, like, a lot of times it would just be the team on its own without the coaches. It was good for communication and leadership.”

While the competition still had the rules expected of a typical volleyball match, there was a noticeable difference when it came to game play.

“(The European) style is definitely a lot different from other teams we’ve played, especially in the Big Ten,” DeBruler said. “Everything’s just a lot slower so we really had to change a lot of things up and just work on the fly because we really couldn’t scout them.

“It was good for us to play different competition and being able to adapt to the things they would do.”

One of the more impressive performances of the trip came against the Italian Junior National Team. The Illini went 1-1 against the squad, winning their first match in five games, before falling on the next day in another five-game match.

“It was good to play them because they were more like a Big Ten team with their size and just their ability,” Haen said of the Italian Team. “They actually brought in some new players that were a little bit older when we played them the second time, and it still went to five so it was a close game.”