The 2010 season saw Illinois volleyball continue to firmly cement itself as a national contender. The Illini defeated a pair of top-five teams, including eventual national champion Penn State and reached as high as No. 3 in the national poll.
The season also will be remembered for its share of adversity. Both Laura DeBruler and Erin Johnson missed time recovering from mononucleosis. Highly touted freshman Anna Dorn suffered an ACL tear during the second week of the season. But the biggest blow came on Oct. 9 when 2009 First Team All-American Laura DeBruler was lost for the season also with an ACL tear.
Early in the season, the Illini were as good as any team in the country. On Sept. 3, the Illini swept No. 2 Texas 25-23 25-18, 25-18 to end the Longhorns' 25-match home court winning streak. Michelle Bartsch was named the Timer Warner Cable Invitational Tournament MVP after hitting .514 in leading the Illini to wins over Texas and Florida A&M.
Early the following week, the Illini found out DeBruler had mono, and the senior would miss the following two weekends. Even without DeBruler, the Illini defeated No. 20 Dayton and took the first two sets from No. 7 Nebraska in front of nearly 12,000 fans in Lincoln. In set three, however, Bartsch sprained an ankle and Nebraska came back to win in five sets. Bartsch returned the following weekend, but unranked Cincinnati also took down the Illini in five.
The Illini ended the weekend with a win over eventual NCAA qualifier Louisville and DeBruler returned the following weekend against No. 2 and three-time defending national champion Penn State.
With over 4,100 fans filling Huff for the first sellout in 18 years, the Illini posted a thrilling five-set victory over the Nittany Lions, ending their record 65-match Big Ten winning streak in a thrilling five-set match on Sept. 24. Colleen Ward led the Illini with 16 kills in that match. Johannah Bangert had 11 kills with no errors in 18 swings for a .611 attack percentage.
Illinois finished the first half of the Big Ten season 9-1, which included five-set victories over No. 25 Northwestern and at No. 20 Minnesota and stood in first place for the first eight weeks of the season. On Oct. 29, Illinois completed victories over every other Big Ten team with a five-set win over No. 15 Michigan at Huff Hall.
Illinois extended its string to 12-1 to start the conference, winning at Wisconsin for the third straight season. The only loss in the stretch, however, came at Michigan, where DeBruler suffered the ACL tear in set three of the match.
Illinois dropped five of its last seven conference matches, the most devastating coming in the rematch with Minnesota. The Illini led two sets to one and 24-20 in the fourth set, but the Gophers scored 13 of the next 14 points to take the match in five sets.
Illinois saw the NCAA Tournament as a fresh start. On the heels of six wins over ranked opponents, including two in the top five, Illinois received the No. 8 national seed and a pair of home matches. The Illini defeated Austin Peay in three sets in round one, then won the rematch with No. 21 Cincinnati in four sets in the second round to advance to their third straight Sweet 16, setting up another rematch -- this time with ninth-seeded Texas in Austin.
Junior Colleen Ward led the NCAA tournament with 44 kills in the first two matches Against Texas, it was freshman Jazmine Orozco who led the way with 21 kills, but the hosts battled back from 2-1 down to eliminate the Illini in five sets.
Three Illini earned All-America honors, Ward on the second team and Bartsch and senior setter Hillary Haen on the third team.
The year saw several milestones. DeBruler became Illinois' all-time kills leader, passing Illini legend Mary Eggers at Wisconsin and finishing her career with 1,833.
Johannah Bangert set a new Illinois record for blocks, finishing with 653 for her career, which is also seventh in Big Ten history. In the final match of the year, Bangert set an all-time conference mark for block assists with 613, breaking the old mark by one. Bangert also became Illinois' first First Team Academic All-American since 1990.
Freshman libero Jennifer Bonilla, an Honorable Mention All-Mideast Region selection, set a new single-season school record for digs with 623. Haen moved into fifth fourth on Illinois' all-time assists list with 3,956 while finishing her career eighth on the single-season assist list with 1,471.