DeBruler rises to the occasion



By Anthony Zilis

After the break following the second set in Saturday evening’s game against No. 11 Oregon, the Illini volleyball team looked down and out. They had dropped the first two sets not leading in either, and star outside hitter Laura DeBruler had a mediocre total of nine kills.

But at the start of the third set a spark seemed to go off for the Illini as DeBruler exploded for nine kills in each of the next two sets and four in the tie-breaking fifth set. The sophomore tied her career high of 31 kills as Illinois won in torrent fashion.

DeBruler also led the team in kills in wins against North Carolina (14) and No. 23 New Mexico State (20) last weekend. She had 38 digs in the three games and was named Tournament MVP, Big Ten Player of the Week, and, on Tuesday, the Sports Imports and American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Week.

Even though DeBruler is fresh off a standout freshman season in which she was named All-Big Ten Honorable Mention, something is different about the second-year player. Without veteran star Vicki Brown, who attracted attention from opposing blockers last season, DeBruler has been forced to become a smarter, more selective player.

“Laura’s a very aggressive player,” head coach Don Hardin said, “It’s all or nothing with her, and it’s taken her a while to realize there’s times when you can’t play that way. Sometimes you’ve got to be smarter with what you’re doing, and she’s really matured into her role.”

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DeBruler recognized she needs to play within the flow of the offense, something she worked on diligently with her teammates in the offseason.

The budding star said she is “just trying to figure out, when in system and in rhythm, when to go for it and also, if (she’s) out of rhythm, try to be smart.”

Hardin has seen this improved selectiveness in DeBruler’s game, and said she is sometimes selective to a fault.

“I think she’s smarter, she’s more patient, and right now the thing she’s learning is when to go for it, because she’s hitting so many shots. Sometimes she’s reluctant to go after it when she knows she has it.”

But the veteran coach was sure to point out that these improvements haven’t come easy.

“That’s come, honestly, through a lot of hard work,” he said. “There’s been a lot of focus … offensively on when to go after it and when to hit a shot, where to hit that shot, understanding the opponent’s defense, where to go and when.”

Hardin also credited some of DeBruler’s success to the in-game experience she gained playing opposite Brown.

“I think getting a million swings last year probably helped her learn some of it,” Hardin said jokingly.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Illini sports desk sits down on Sunday nights and decides which Illinois athlete is our Illini of the Week. Student-athletes are evaluated by individual performance, contribution to team success and personal achievement.