Bartsch quietly slams 20-20 performance, twice

Editor’s Note: The Daily Illini sports desk sits down 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.

Examining the Illinois volleyball team off the court, one may not notice Michelle Bartsch.

The senior is not the loudest — she doesn’t necessarily lead the team vocally. But after seeing her on the court, it’s hard not to become aware of Bartsch’s rocket arm.

“She’s more of a doer right now. She leads through example and she’s not a super vocal kid — but that’s getting better — but I think she’s more like, ‘Hey I’ll do this,’” head coach Kevin Hambly said. “She just does. She’s like, ‘Here, just hop on and I’ll carry you guys at times.’”

Bartsch did just that this past weekend after becoming the third Illinois player with a 20-20 performance since 2002.

And then she did it again.

After the Maryville, Ill., native went 20-20 against Tennessee on Friday night, recording 21 kills and 23 digs, she posted 24 kills and 20 digs against then-No. 21 Dayton on Saturday night.

Those numbers, including her kills in the critical fifth set of the Dayton match, helped earn Bartsch her second consecutive MVP award and keep current-No. 4 Illinois undefeated. Bartsch also garnered Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

“She did a great job this weekend, she led our team in a bunch of different things and especially transitioning from the right side to the outside,” fellow outside hitter Colleen Ward said, referring to the change that happened last spring when Bartsch moved from a right-side hitter to left hitter.

“She’s done an amazing job at just making it look so easy, I mean it’s not easy, everything’s complete opposite,” Ward said. “She’s doing really well on defense and she’s obviously doing really well at attacking.”

Hambly said the new position suits Bartsch well, but it didn’t come without challenges.

“At first it was a little chaotic because it was the complete opposite of what I’ve been doing and rotation-wise I had no idea what I was doing,” Bartsch said. “After every play I was like, ‘Ward, where do I go, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Now I’ve gotten the hang of it and everyone knows where everyone is suppose to go so it’s a lot less confusing.”

Receiving the ball from the setter at a different angle is one aspect of switching from the right to left side. The left side also means more passing, an aspect Hambly said Bartsch has improved on.

“She’s just working harder, she’s more committed to being a great volleyball player,” Hambly said.

The change was made when Illinois knew it was receiving freshman Liz McMahon, a right-side hitter at 6-foot-6. Knowing McMahon could fill that right side, especially blocking with her height, 6-foot-3 Bartsch was moved to the left.

“I think the positions are really different but Bartsch makes it look so easy … she transitioned really well,” Ward said.

Bartsch has intensified her play this season, as Hambly has pushed the senior to reach her capabilities.

“Last year, especially last spring, I really challenged her to try and be the best player she can be,” Hambly said. “Like how do you want to be remembered here? Do you want to be remembered as a kid who had a lot of potential or do you want to try and actualize that potential a little bit more?”

So far, it seems Bartsch has reached some of that potential. And although she may not be the loudest person on the court, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a presence.

“I mean she is more of a calm person so it’s really good to have it on the team,” Ward said. “When it’s hectic, she can calm the team down pretty quickly and even if it’s not by words but by her actions.”