Bangert changes role to lead team in Penn state victory

Volleyball player Johannah Bangert has led the nation in blocks at the end of the past two seasons.

She’s not quite there this season. Last weekend she didn’t even make the top 50, missing it by one spot at No. 51 with 1.22 blocks per set. There is one statistical category, however, where the senior is setting the pace for the nation — hitting percentage.

Bangert leads the Illini in that area and is ranked eighth nationally with a .456 hitting percentage and 169 total attacks.

Her attack led the way for the Illini force during Friday’s momentous face-off against then-No. 2 Penn State. Her 11 total kills included three in the critical fifth and final set, paving the way to a 17-15 victory that snapped the 65-match Big ten winning streak for the now-No. 4 Nittany Lions.

During the match, she had the highest hitting percentage on the team, hitting what senior Laura DeBruler calls a “nearly impossible” .611.

This all came from a middle blocker.

During the final set against Penn State, Bangert knew she needed to bring more than usual and she told setter Hillary Haen she was ready.

“Jo said, ‘Set me the ball,’ I said ‘OK,’” Haen said.

Bangert hit three kills right in the middle of that final set.

“That’s pretty much what happened, I go, ‘Hillary, I only have one block, give me the ball,’ and she’s like, ‘OK,’ and she did,” Bangert said.

The senior leader stepped out of her comfort zone, doing something different than usual.

“And it worked and she scored,” Haen said.

The middle blocker knew she wanted the team to be great this year and she knew she would have to work on her play. And it was her attack that she knew could be improved.

“I think it’s still surprising our own team, it’s still surprising me the whole time,” Bangert said. “I’ve played the past three years in the Big Ten but I haven’t been much of an offensive leader before, so I don’t think teams are really looking for me yet.”

“We joked that it took me three years to finally learn how to hit a ball, but yeah it’s something that I worked really hard on all spring and even this summer. It’s been a main focus of mine,” Bangert added.

Head coach Kevin Hambly said Bangert’s main change was learning how to play as a hitter who was trying to score, instead of just trying to hit.

“She’s probably one of our most improved players, actually, which doesn’t typically happen for a senior, but her attacking has really improved,” Hambly said.

It wasn’t just the attack that made Bangert stick out during the Penn State match; it was something DeBruler said has always stuck out about her, making her different than everyone else on the team. Her role as the “energy leader.”

Hambly said he always likes how the team is calm and collected, staying quiet most of the time. It was like that during most of the match, expect for Bangert — the one player who never stopped jumping around.

“Whenever she comes on the court, even though it’s just for three rotations, she brings tons of energy especially with her block, when she gets so excited,” DeBruler said. “Especially for us calm people on the court, it’s nice to have somebody super pumped on the court, ready to go the whole time.”

“And she’s worked hard on this for her whole career, it’s great that this is finally coming into place at the perfect time,” DeBruler added.

Editor’s note: The Daily Illini sports desk sits down on Sunday nights and decides which Illinois athlete or coach is our Illini of the Week. Student-athletes and coaches are evaluated by individual performance and contribution to team success.