Illini volleyball splits weekend, shakes up Big Ten standings

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By Kyle Diller

Illinois’ heartbreaking loss in five sets to No. 15 Minnesota on Saturday brought a shake-up in the Big Ten volleyball standings.

Entering the weekend, the Orange and Blue were in second place in the Big Ten, with the Golden Gophers a game behind in fourth place, setting the stage for a key matchup.

Just more than a month after the Illini were devastated in Huff Hall when Minnesota defeated them in five sets, history repeated itself last weekend. The result dropped the Orange and Blue back into third place in the Big Ten, while pushing Minnesota up the chart into second behind undefeated Penn State. However, the loss to Minnesota doesn’t seem to be concerning the team too much.

“We’re kind of bunched up pretty tight in the race with Minnesota, and right behind us is Purdue and Michigan,” head coach Don Hardin said. “We still have not played Penn State a second time, and they seem to be a high percentage loss for a lot of teams. Minnesota has that advantage in that one of their losses is that they’ve already played Penn State twice.”

Despite the loss, the Illini played a strong game against Minnesota, particularly Laura DeBruler, who once again lit up the court with 29 kills.

“She was unbelievable, as always,” Hardin said. “She just has consistently with come up with these phenomenal efforts. It’s not just her attack, which everyone loves to see, but her defense was just remarkable, she was making digs that would justify description. The other coaches this weekend were just shaking their heads, there wasn’t much they could do about it. It was a pretty phenomenal performance. Its become what we expect from Laura.”

The sophomore, named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday, remains modest, admitting that while she had a remarkable weekend, her teammates proved impressive as well.

“I think I played pretty well. It’s kind of cool, because there will be weekends when Michelle (Bartsch), she’ll be really hot, or me and Kylie (McCulley) will be really hot,” DeBruler said. “Depending on who has that extra little fire, that’s where the ball is going to go to. Maybe it was my turn this weekend, but it’s cool that it’s able to spread around.”

Hardin is just happy the team didn’t end up dropping both matches on the weekend. The team defeated Iowa in four sets on Friday, providing momentum that didn’t pull through against the Gophers.

“We really avoided the negative effect of losing to both,” Hardin said. “Iowa was a really close match, the game scores were very close, they were really hotly contested sets. So our win against Iowa, it was very important we focused our attention there or we might’ve come up short.”