No. 16 Illinois defeats No. 18 Purdue, extends lead to No. 3 in Big Ten

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Kylie McCulley spikes the ball in attempts to score against Indiana in Huff Hall on Saturday. Erica Magda

By Kate Munson

In a match that could determine home court advantage in the NCAA Tournament, No. 16 Illinois stepped up to the challenge, defeating the Boilermakers in four sets (25-15, 22-25, 25-21, 25-22) on Wednesday night.

The Illini came out firing in the first game, out-hitting Purdue .312 to .103. But the Boilermakers battled back to take set two.

“We broke down a little bit on passing,” head coach Don Hardin said. “We made probably three or four hitting errors and then they started blocking well and getting confidence.”

The Illini rose to the challenge in sets three and four, defeating the Boilermakers behind solid offensive performances from their outside hitters. Sophomore Laura DeBruler recorded 17 digs as well as 17 kills while hitting .277, and junior Kylie McCulley tallied 18 kills while hitting .279.

With Purdue teaming up to against DeBruler and fellow outside hitter Michelle Bartsch, McCulley’s performance was especially vital.

“I thought Kylie was excellent tonight. She hit off the block really well and when she had the open shot, she went for it, kept her errors down. She even had a great kills out of the back row, she was having trouble with timing on that and just nailed a couple of those,” Hardin said. “She’s feeling better with her foot right now and she’s able to practice, so it’s really helping her out.”

Another factor in the victory was the squad’s ability to focus on their style of play throughout the match.

“We had talked after last weekend about staying ourselves, stepping up the competitiveness and just getting after it, and I think we did that from the beginning,” senior setter Lizzie Bazzetta said.

“We brought a little more energy, a little bit more excitement.”

But the Boilermakers’ slide attack was a force the Illini had to contend with all night as senior middle hitter Stephanie Lynch tallied 19 kills and hit .500.

In the end, Purdue was unable to overcome Illinois’ superior serve-receive and strong blocking as the Illini improved to 22-7 (12-5 Big Ten).

The win marked the first time since 2003 that the Illini have swept Purdue in the season series. And the victory meant even more with Big Ten standings and the possibility to host NCAA Tournament play on the line.

“I think any win on the road is really big, but especially this late in the season it really helps,” DeBruler said.

“Purdue is, I would call it, one of our rival schools that we really try to get fired up for, and I’m glad that we just came out there and were ready fight and played well against them.”