Volleyball sweeps IPFW in tournament opener

Late in the third set of the Illinois volleyball team’s opening match of the NCAA Tournament, junior Laura DeBruler served the ball directly into freshman Erin Johnson’s head. That, however, was the only blow the Illini took on a night where they swiftly swept the Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne Mastadons at Huff Hall.

Ending the season for IPFW (20-12), Illinois (25-5) continued to the second round, where it will face Dayton tonight.

“I think (IPFW’s) serve was very aggressive from the very beginning, it took us awhile to adjust and get back in the passing,” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “They’re scrappy and just look at their libero, I thought they were a very scrappy team.”

Illinois took an early 7-2 lead in the first set. Junior setter Hillary Haen was back in full form after battling the flu last week and had three aces to help the Illini start off strong. The Mastadons didn’t let up, tying the match at 11 before the Illini used its attack to pull away and win the opening set 25-16.

It was the strong attack of sophomore Michelle Bartsch and DeBruler that propelled the Illini. The outside hitters both had a .500 hitting percentage in set one, leading the Illini attack to a .382 mark. Bartsch had eight kills while DeBruler posted four in the opening set.

“(Michelle Bartsch) is an amazing hitter and she’s just a huge weapon for us, and we wanted to send the message that we had that skill in the beginning of the match,” said Haen, who finished with 35 assists.

In the second set, the Illini’s strengths stood out, as they had five aces and not a single service error. Taking the lead from the beginning, the Illini found their rhythm and didn’t let up, prevailing 25-15.

After that, it was smooth playing until the end for the Illini, as they took the third set quickly, winning 25-12 and never trailing. The block was strong for Illinois in the final set, with junior Johannah Bangert having four blocks, and DeBruler and Bartsch posting two each.

For the match, Illinois finished with a .946 serve percentage and only four service errors. The Illini hit .333 as a team on the night.

“I think our best aspect of play was the serve pass battle,” Bangert said. “We really attacked them on our serving also, and I think that was our strength today.”

“I think we are right on where we want to be right now,” Bangert added. “Our coaches have been giving us a lot of advice on techniques and we are hitting it right on the spot right now.”