Illini keep pace in conference with 2-0 weekend

 

 

By Anthony Zilis

The Illini volleyball team sent a message to the Big Ten this weekend – they’re not going away.

After two 1-1 weekends to start the conference season, the Illini needed big wins on the road to stay in contention in the Big Ten, and they produced, beating No. 23 Michigan (25-19, 25-17, 25-20) on Saturday, a day after a win against Ohio State.

“I don’t know the last time we’ve beaten Ohio State and Michigan on the road,” Illini coach Don Hardin said. “It’s huge, especially playing a team like Michigan on the road.”

And for an Illinois team that has battled inconsistencies throughout the season, this road swing was a breath of fresh air.

“They just stayed steady, and didn’t try to do anything out of their game plan,” Hardin said.

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    Michelle Bartsch had five block assists against Michigan, but it was her nine kills and .471 hitting percentage that impressed setter Lizzie Bazzetta.

    “She’s definitely a threat on the attack,” the senior said. “We have a lot of confidence in her.”

    But it was a more familiar face that carried the Illini offense against the Wolverines, as Laura DeBruler led the team with 15 kills and hit .314.

    “Right now she’s playing like one of the best players in the conference,” Hardin said. “They can slow her down, but they can’t stop her.”

    DeBruler described her mindset last weekend as “in the zone.” The sophomore said when she swings for “high hands,” she knows she’s tough to stop.

    What made Saturday’s win even more impressive for the Illini is that Michigan beat No. 18 Purdue on Friday, who has been in close competition with the Illini.

    The win has the Illini tied for third place in the conference, only a win behind second place Minnesota, who lost to Penn State in straight sets Saturday.

    “It was really important for us, this pulled us apart from the rest of the pack,” DeBruler said.

    The big Saturday win came after the Illini soundly defeated Ohio State on Friday. Even though the second set was close on the score sheet, Hardin said the match was never in doubt for his team.

    This Illini team has, at times, tried to do too much, and at others has lacked concentration.

    But they’re finding out when they play their own game they can beat just about anybody.

    “This was definitely a confidence booster for us,” Bazzetta said. “If we just stick with our style of play it’ll work out for us.”