DeBruler and Bartsch to lead Illini volleyball



By Anthony Zilis

Jordan and Pippen. Ruth and Gehrig. Manning and Harrison. Dee and Deron. These names are synonymous with top teammates in sports. Over the next few seasons, Illini fans may have reason to add DeBruler and Bartsch to that list.

Coming into this season, sophomore Laura DeBruler was arguably the Illinois volleyball team’s definitive offensive star, a prime candidate to be double and triple teamed. That was, until coach Don Hardin landed prized recruit Michelle Bartsch.The duo showed promise that should excite Illini fans when they tallied 20 of the team’s 37 kills in Saturday’s Alumni Match.

So highly rated in high school, one would think the freshman outside hitter Bartsch would feel pressure to contribute – and she does.

“Of course it’s a lot of pressure, but I’m used to playing under pressure,” Bartsch said.

That’s because Bartsch was selected to the 2006 and 2008 Junior National Teams that won gold at the North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation Championships, where she was named Best Server in 2008, and helped Collinsville High School reach the Illinois Super Sectionals twice.

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But just because she played at high levels in high school doesn’t mean the Maryville, Ill., native won’t need to adjust to the college game.

“It’ll be definitely a lot faster game, bigger players, bigger girls,” Bartsch said. “I’ll definitely have to change a lot of things.”

Her sophomore counterpart, DeBruler, is impressed with the development of the youngster and doesn’t think Bartsch should have too big of a problem making the jump.

“(Michelle is) doing a great job. She’s going to be a force,” DeBruler said.

It is important for the Illini that Bartsch develops into a reliable player in order to take pressure off the team’s well-known star player – DeBruler.

“Everyone’s going to focus on (DeBruler), and that’s why Bartsch, hitting the numbers she’s hitting … is really going to keep teams from loading up on her,” coach Don Hardin said.

Last season, DeBruler was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention as an outside hitter, totaling 577 kills, good for third-most in a single season in school history.

But DeBruler won’t let the pressure of being such an important part of the Illini team weigh on her, pushing thoughts of individual success to the back of her mind, and instead focusing on the rest of the team.

“This year we’re going to have a team where we can spread it all over the place,” DeBruler said. “Our right side is looking really good, so hopefully that will help make the team that much better.”

Nonetheless, DeBruler has set her focus to improving on a standout season.

“I’m just concentrating on consistency and being smart, and really trying to widen my range of hitting,” she said.

The Illini hope the duo of Bartsch and DeBruler can combine to be even more formidable than the last season’s combination of DeBruler and 6-foot-2 middle blocker Vicki Brown, a fan favorite for the Illini last season thanks to her outstanding athleticism and ability.

When asked if she could regenerate Brown’s star power, DeBruler laughed.

“We’ll just have to see how things go.”