No. 17 Illinois volleyball splits weekend matches against No. 19 Wisconsin and Northwestern



By Kate Munson

For the No. 17 Illinois volleyball squad, the outcome last weekend wasn’t exactly what it wanted. But the results did prove the Fighting Illini are resilient.

After a disappointing five-set loss to Northwestern on Friday, the Illini regrouped and came out fighting against No. 19 Wisconsin on Sunday, as they defeated the Badgers in straight sets (27-25, 25-17, 25-22).

“It definitely was a better executed match (Sunday). We didn’t make the mistakes and the errors that we made on Friday,” head coach Don Hardin said. “It wasn’t a matter of trying harder or gearing up more, it was actually a matter of pressure and not worrying about things as much. That freed us up to execute like we normally can.”

Pacing the Illini was sophomore outside hitter Laura DeBruler, who notched 14 kills and 11 digs.

But it was the squad’s defensive play that was highlighted in the victory. The Illini had 11 team blocks compared to just four by the Badgers. And the block wasn’t the only thing working for Illinois.

“(Wisconsin is) a really good offensive team, they’re big at the net, and to hold them down to .160 hitting is pretty significant,” Hardin said.

“It wasn’t only our block; it was great back court defense.”

Because Illinois dropped Friday’s match to the unranked Wildcats, Sunday’s win was especially important.

“I’d say that we weren’t doing the things that we normally do. It was kind of passes were rushed and we weren’t able to get to our middles as often,” DeBruler said following Friday’s match. “I think as a whole just not how we normally play and it’s not our style of play.”

Both teams suffered from hitting errors, as the Illini had 30 and the Wildcats had 33.

“When we gave them eight or nine points in one game on hitting errors in one game, they beat us and when they gave us eight or nine we beat them,” Hardin said. “(The match) was hard fought at the end, but it took that for us to put that kind of fighting effort forward. That’s unfortunate.”

Hardin added that the Illini were unable to defend against Northwestern’s quick slide attack, allowing the Wildcats to overcome their hitting errors and win the match.

Despite the loss, junior outside hitter Kylie McCulley posted a career-high 16 digs, while DeBruler also posted 16 digs and added 26 kills.

While Illinois acknowledged that Northwestern played well, the squad blamed themselves for not being able to pull out the win.

“It was a good performance by Northwestern, but I think we let them get the feeling that they could win this match and I think that came from us,” Hardin said.

For the Fighting Illini, the weekend exemplified what they already knew.

“We can lose to any team in the conference and still be playing well, it’s that kind of fight,” Hardin said. “Every single point has got to be fought like it matters or we put ourselves into jeopardy.”