Illini volleyball falls in rankings



By Anthony Zilis

On Sunday, the Illini volleyball team proved it can be, at times, one of the best teams in the country with a 3-0 victory over now No. 21 Wisconsin.

But Monday’s American Volleyball Coaches Association Poll depicts the more complete story of the weekend, as Illinois (14-5, 5-3) dropped from No. 17 to No. 19.

The fall in the rankings was due to Friday’s loss to Northwestern (7-12, 1-7) – a team that had yet to win in Big Ten play. Despite the setback, the Illini know they’re still in the thick of the fight for third in the Big Ten standings, where they are currently tied with Purdue at 5-3.

“This was a lesson-learning weekend for how we have to play ball. We’ve learned it once already early in the year so this really verifies what we kind of already knew and solidifies that for us,” said head coach Don Hardin.

Sophomore outside hitter Laura DeBruler’s explanation for the turnaround after Northwestern: short memories.

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“We kind of just let that last match out of our mind, like, ‘All right, there’s another big team coming in and let’s really stick with what we know,'” DeBruler said. “I think we have to take every single game like it’s going to be a fight.”

The Illini will play Purdue this Wednesday for third place, but DeBruler doesn’t pay much attention to the standings.

“I didn’t even know we were tied, actually.”

Cinderella plays middle blocker

After compiling 13 block assists and 2 solo blocks in eight weekend sets, Illini middle blocker Johannah Bangert leads the Big Ten in blocks per set at 1.6. But the sophomore hasn’t always had such blocking prowess.

“Last year, we were in the bottom of the Big Ten in blocks. That’s really been a focus of ours all spring and all this year just trying to improve on that,” Bangert said. “We’ve put a lot of hard work into that and it’s paid off, I guess.”

But Bangert’s game is not as complete as fans would like, as she has struggled on her timing with the team’s setters. Over the season, Bangert has had several sets where she jumped early, resulting in either a weak hit or no hit at all.

“We’re still trying to get that down,” she said. “We’re working on that every day … it’s just a lot of trust between the setters and myself, for knowing I’ll be up on time, and them firing the ball to me.”

She’ll try to learn from her teammate to her left, outside hitter DeBruler, who is second in the Big Ten in kills per set at 4.47. Only Indiana’s Erica Short has more with 4.78.

No practice may have to make perfect

The Illini have their busiest stretch of the season this week, playing four games in eight days.

But the stress that comes with the increased workload doesn’t bother Bangert.

“It’s actually kind of nice just because it works out,” she said. “It’s going to be hard having four matches so close together but it’s spaced out enough where we can get the time in that we need to but we’ll still have the rest time in between the matches.”

This decreases the time available to work out kinks, such as Bangert’s problems on the attack.

“Until after Michigan State (on Friday), we don’t have a chance to get into the gym for any significant amount of time to improve, it’s mostly just preparation for the opponent,” Hardin said.

“We’ll put in a little time on (Bangert) connecting with the setters but really she just has to keep improving through match play.”