DeBruler looking to be ‘vocal leader’ for volleyball in 2010

She’s the face of Illinois volleyball, and this is her curtain call.

Laura DeBruler enters her senior season with Illinois as one of the most decorated players in Illini volleyball history, yet there is still more she wants to accomplish.

In 2009, she was a First Team All-American, All-Big Ten, a two-time Big Ten Player of the Week and led Illinois in kills in all but seven matches.

DeBruler finished the 2009 season with 504 kills, moving her into fifth on the all-time Illinois kills list with 1,668 — just 93 short of the record.

DeBruler’s name is scribbled from cover-to-cover inside the Illinois volleyball record book, but there’s one thing her illustrious career is missing: a national championship.

The Illini entered the 2009 NCAA regional semifinal as the No. 5 national seed and had a shot to make a run at the title. No. 12 Hawaii quickly squashed those dreams when it eliminated Illinois in the Sweet 16.

A year later, the time is now for DeBruler and Co.

“It just feels like our time,” DeBruler said. “We’ve had some different components that we have been adding throughout the year and have a really good freshman class, so hopefully this year is the year to do something special.”

One of the additions DeBruler pointed to is the 6-2 outside hitter, Colleen Ward, who transferred to Illinois from the University of Florida.

Ward’s average of 3.09 kills per set for Florida was good for 10th best in the SEC in 2009, and her presence up front will give the Illini a daunting tandem when paired with DeBruler.

As DeBruler starts her senior season, she is poised to have yet another record-breaking season, but for the outside hitter from Downers Grove, Ill., the records mean nothing if they don’t come with wins.

“To be honest, I haven’t even looked at any of the records,” DeBruler said.

“I’m really focused on what I can do to help the team. I really don’t look at that stuff … I’d rather take a team win over a record broken any day.”

As a unanimous selection to the preseason All-Big Ten team, DeBruler dedicated her offseason to improving her already stellar game.

DeBruler cited the angle she takes on the ball as an adjustment to her game, but she said the most notable change has nothing to do with volleyball.

“The biggest thing, which is not really volleyball but still important, is to change my leadership role,” DeBruler said. “I’ve been trying to be more vocal and trying to help people out. For a lot of the time, I have been more of the silent leader and doing my actions and playing, but this year, I’m really trying to step it up and be more of a vocal leader.”

A vocal leader or not, DeBruler’s presence is known when the Illini take the court.

“Laura is our big leader on the court with actions, with effort and getting the kills and all that,” fellow senior Johannah Bangert said.

Coming into the 2010 season, the Illini are ranked second in the Big Ten behind three-time defending national champion Penn State, and DeBruler’s role — both on and off the court — will be a major factor in dethroning the Nittany Lions.

Head coach Kevin Hambly knows this will be a big year for DeBruler.

“Laura has been an asset to the team all four years,” Hambly said. “This is the season she is up to break all the records. She is ready and she’ll probably do all of that and more.”