Illini of the Decade: #11 Laura DeBruler

Laura DeBruler isn’t one of the tallest outside hitters in the Big Ten. She can’t jump the highest, either. She wasn’t the most sought-after recruit, and she’s not much of a vocal leader.

However, according to Illinois volleyball head coach Kevin Hambly, she’s “perfect” and “one of the greatest things to ever grace the gym at Huff Hall.”

DeBruler has been one of the key ingredients to the blossoming of the Illinois volleyball program, which ended last season ranked 10th in the nation after a trip to the Sweet 16.

A two-time All-American, DeBruler holds the Illinois record for career 20-kill matches, with 34.

She finished the 2009 season with 504 kills, moving her into fifth on the all-time Illinois kills list with 1,668, less than 100 short of the record.

And as a junior, she still has one more season left.

One of DeBruler’s goals is to improve in any way she possibly can every day. Former Illinois head coach Don Hardin, who coached DeBruler in her first two seasons, described her hard work ethic by illustrating one of his favorite scenes of the athlete.

“When Laura does something really well that she was working on for a while, when she really nails it, she looks up at the sky and screams in joy and she praises herself and goes, ‘Way to go Laura! That’s the way, that’s great!’ She just rejoices at finally getting something down. And when she first did that in the gym everybody kind of stopped and looked, but then they got used to it. It makes things interesting, it makes the environment fun,” Hardin said.

It is this hard work ethic that DeBruler motivates her teammates with.

“Laura’s not as much a vocal leader as she is an action leader. She goes out there and puts her heart into every single game and goes after it,” fellow outside hitter Kylie McCulley said.

DeBruler is noted for her drive for the game and how she never gives up.

“She works extremely hard in the gym all the time, and she never really gets down on herself on the court,” teammate Hillary Haen said. “If she’s struggling, she doesn’t let it show and she has improved.”

Not only does DeBruler motivate her teammates but other individuals as well.

On the (Champaign) News-Gazette’s 2009 All-Area Volleyball Team, the honorees were asked to name their favorite athlete. Among those named were Michael Phelps, Tim Tebow, Michael Jordan and … Laura DeBruler.

The 5-foot-11 DeBruler was chosen by Cori Harris, a senior outside hitter at Centennial High School.

Harris said she picked DeBruler as her favorite because she plays with humility and seems to enjoy herself when playing.

“I chose her instead of someone else famous because she is a really great role model for me,” Harris said. “Like myself, Laura is not as tall as a lot of girls that she plays against. She is still very successful and does not make her height a disadvantage to her. Being a 5-foot-9 outside hitter, I have been able to use Laura as an example of how I should play.”

But the thing that sticks out most about DeBruler is her passion for the game of volleyball.

“The word I would say to fit Laura most is ‘passion,’” teammate Johannah Bangert said. “She absolutely loves the game and you can tell that every second you’re around her. It’s a lot of fun with her on the court, we get really excited on big points. She’s one of the ones out there with me that’s jumping up and down, screaming, going crazy.”

That passion was on display on DeBruler’s 21st birthday, when she was at Huff Hall, leading Illinois in a sweep against Wisconsin with 18 kills and a .424 hitting percentage.

“There’s nothing I would rather be doing today,” DeBruler said at the time.

In high school at Downers Grove North, DeBruler played a variety of sports, including badminton and track. But she knew two things: She wanted to play volleyball in college and Illinois was the school for her.

One reason DeBruler chose Illinois was because of her family, as her older sister and her twin sister both currently attend.

“I think that she really liked Illinois because of her sister,” said Laura’s mother, Michelle. “And for Laura, she just always loved playing volleyball and knew that’s what she wanted to do.”

Aside from her passion on the court, DeBruler is quite a character. In addition to the orange and blue tradition, another thing that comes from the family is DeBruler’s “pink dolly.” DeBruler’s had the dolly since she was a baby, and it has since transformed from being pink to sporting an Illini jumpsuit that her mother sewed. DeBruler brings the dolly with her to all the games.

“It’s creepy and I don’t like it. But it is what it is,” Hambly said.

Another unique quality of DeBruler is her singing ability. She was in the choir during all four years of high school and loves to sing — all the time.

Not only does DeBruler like to sing, but she also has little quirks every season that separate her from the rest of the team.

“Every year I pick something,” DeBruler said during the 2009 season. “Last year I wore tons of clips in my hair, this year I tie my shoelaces around my shoes and freshman year I just danced a lot before the match. I don’t know what I’m going to do next year.”

One thing that DeBruler does know, however, is that she wants leave behind a legacy at Illinois.

“What we’re doing now is something that we talked about when I first came here,” DeBruler said of the Illini’s success. “We put in all the hard work and we’re finally achieving what we really want to do. I think it’s cool to be part of the legacy.

“I think just having a good culture of working hard and enjoying it is the legacy I want to leave.”