Illini move up in rankings, DeBruler and Bonilla claim weekly honors

This article has been modified from its original version to correct a misquote.

After the second week of Big Ten competition, Illinois moved up to No. 6 in the national polls. Illinois is one of five Big Ten teams in the top 25, with Penn State in the lead at No. 4 and followed by No. 16 Minnesota, No. 18 Michigan and No. 24 Northwestern. The Illini defeated Northwestern in five sets Saturday, moving to a 12-2 record overall and 4-0 in conference play.

Two Illini athletes won player of the week honors: senior Laura DeBruler as Big Ten Player of the Week and freshman Jennifer Bonilla won Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Illini volleyball athletes have totaled six player of the week awards this season.

Against Wisconsin, DeBruler broke the Illinois all-time kills record, posting 26 kills and 15 digs. On Saturday night, DeBruler had a 20-20, with 21 kills and 28 digs.

Bonilla made her mark Wednesday night, when she posted 32 digs, the sixth most in school history. Saturday, she totaled 27 digs, leading to her being named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the second time.

“I’m here to dig and I’m here to pass, so I just do what I can,” Bonilla said.

Head coach Kevin Hambly, however thinks the teams passing has room for improvement.

“I mean Jennifer Bonilla, she’s often the only freshman libero on the floor,” Hambly said. “So we struggled at times and we’re gonna work at our passes, we had a lot of balls up in the air.”

Johnson out with mono; Kump steps in at middle

It was DeBruler two weeks ago and now it’s sophomore Erin Johnson. The middle blocker missed the last two matches due to mononucleosis, the same illness DeBruler was out with for five matches. Hambly said Johnson will be out for two to six weeks.

Senior Nicole Kump has been starting in the meantime. Kump also filled in for Michelle Bartsch during the Nebraska match when she had an ankle sprain.

Hambly thinks Kump fits in well with the starting lineup.

“She’s been great, I thought she was real tentative against Wisconsin,” Hambly said. “She had some plays that were just a little bit soft and I thought tonight (Saturday) she went after them, I thought she did fine and she got swings. She got a big kill in the big set.”

Hambly said she is a versatile player, which helps the team in times of injury.

“She just did a real nice job for us,” Hambly said. “Sometimes she’ll play right side and sometimes middle, sometimes she’s played left for us; it helps.”

Illinois struggles with 1st set, maintaining consistency

During this season, the Illini have lost in the first set six times, five that ended in wins — BYU, Middle Tennessee, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Penn State — and one loss, to Cincinnati. In only two matches — Nebraska and Louisville — did the Illini go to more than three sets after winning the first.

“We’re just a little disappointed that we can’t get over that first-game funk,” senior Hillary Haen said. “We want to come out strong and play strong consistently, at times we play amazing and at times we play poorly. We just need to get to a point where we’re starting off strong and keeping it.”