Dorn has breakthrough game against Penn State

_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._

Anna Dorn went on a blocking rampage in her debut against Penn State. It was a first match against the Nittany Lions that came one year later than expected.

The redshirt freshman didn’t play last year because she tore her ACL and has slowly been adjusting to the starting role as middle blocker.

On Saturday’s Big Ten showdown between No. 1 Illinois and No. 9 Penn State, Dorn was leaping and blocking with young, fresh energy, belittling signs that her career would be marred by the injury.

“Anna just dominated,” freshman Liz McMahon said. “She was unstoppable. Nothing could get through her blocking. Just to see that look in her eyes, ‘cause she was fired up, we just knew it was going on a positive direction.”

On Penn State’s court, under a hostile environment that didn’t welcome Illinois stealing its No.-1 glory, Dorn produced a record performance.

She posted 13 blocking assists, tying her for the most in Illinois history. Four of those came in a crucial fifth set, when Illinois sealed its first win at Rec Hall since 1995.

“Playing in their gym is no walk in the park,” Dorn said. “I was just really excited for the game. I knew that it would pose so many challenges, and I feel like the fact that I knew it would be such a challenge made me step up. I feel like in tough situations, like Penn State, it’s really easy to get excited to play.”

Dorn’s performance earned her Big Ten Freshman Player of the Week and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.

After sitting out all of last year, Dorn entered this season still in freshman mode; she had to figure out how to play and get used to college volleyball.

Her performances against Penn State and No. 24 Ohio State this past weekend told head coach Kevin Hambly that Dorn is more comfortable with her abilities on the court.

“When you’re a freshman you’re so worried about yourself, and you’re just trying to survive,” Hambly said. “Her first month of the season, she was not competing; she was just trying to play.

Now, she’s more like a veteran player where she’s competing hard. It’s more like she’s getting outside of her own head and starting to be aware of what’s going on the floor a little bit more.”

Part of that comfort came through more playing experience and becoming familiar with Illinois’ system. Another part of it came through Dorn putting pressure on herself to get better, Hambly said.

“I don’t know if she knew what that meant before,” Hambly said. “She’s really stepped up her game in practice as well as in matches. She was OK with leaving holes in the block early in the season. Now, she’s not OK with that now, and that’s not coming from us. That’s coming from her.”

Lately, Dorn said playing in matches feels like second nature.

“For a long time, I was trying to figure out what I needed to do on the court,” Dorn said. “As opposed to running around on the court trying to figure out all these different factors, like what’s the other team doing, how do they run their offense. It’s just kind of programmed in my head.”

The Illini have seen what happens when Dorn gets her competitive spirit going, and Hambly expects Dorn to get a deeper sense of that.

“We’ve used the word fierce, ‘We need you to be fierce,’” Hambly said. “Her block is imposing. She jumps out of the gym, real high. She’s gets way over the net. She can be an intimidating blocker if she competes harder, and she’s starting to figure that out.”