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On Dec. 15, 2011, the Fighting Illini captured their biggest victory in program history, defeating No. 1 USC, 3-2, in the 2011 National Semifinals to advance to their first-ever NCAA Championship match. With the score tied 9-9 in the fifth, Illinois went on a 5-1 run to reach match point, ahead 14-10. However, getting that final point would prove the most difficult of the night, as the two teams entered into an epic rally lasting one minute and five seconds, the replay of which would land on ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10, before Katie Fuller's attack went long to punch Illinois' ticket to the finals.
In 1988, the Illini did something unprecedented - they won their third-straight Big Ten title. No conference team had ever won the coveted championship more than two years in a row, and no team would do it again for another 17 years. From 1986-88, Illinois went 53-1 in conference play. Illinois book-ended its threepeat with a pair of second-place finishes in 1985 and 1989, firmly cementing itself as a Big Ten powerhouse. During the late 80s, Mike Hebert's Illini put U of I on the map, with an All-American lineup of Mary Eggers, Nancy Brookhart, Laura Bush, Petra Laverman and top performers such as Disa Johnson and Chris Schwarz, the sky was the limit for the Illini, who reached back-to-back Final Fours and forever made Illinois volleyball a household name.
Heading into the final weekend of the 1992 regular season, Illinois hosted No. 9 Penn State and No. 22 Ohio State with the Big Ten title on the line. Penn State (26-2, 18-0) came in to Huff Hall undefeated in Big Ten play and one match ahead of the Illini (28-3, 17-1), whose only conference loss came at the hands of the Nittany Lions in a 5-setter in State College two months earlier. In front of a sellout crowd of 4,050, Illinois dominated PSU for a 3-0 sweep to move into a tie for first with one match remaining in the season. While the Nittany Lions had an easy final match, facing a Northwestern team who was just 9-20 on the year, Illinois had another test ahead, defending conference champion No. 22 Ohio State (21-7, 14-5). Another large crowd helped the Orange and Blue power past the Buckeyes, 3-0, to clinch the Illini's fourth Big Ten Championship in seven years. It marked the first time the Illini had swept the Penn State-Ohio State weekend series, and could not have come on a bigger stage.
In 1987, the Illini got the chance to host the NCAA Regionals for the first time at Kenney Gym, and the home court advantage would prove the lift the Orange and Blue needed to advance to their first ever NCAA Championship weekend. The postseason began with a visit by unranked Pittsburgh, who took the first set before No. 7 Illinois flipped a switch to outscore the Panthers 45-9 in the final three games. Next up came Western Michigan, a familiar foe that Illinois had defeated in the previous two tournaments, but who came in ranked No. 15. In what would prove to be the longest home or postseason match in Illinois history at 2 hours and 45 minutes, U of I outlasted WMU 3-2 to advance to the NCAA Regional Finals, where it would have to face another familiar foe, No. 8 Nebraska. Entering the match 0-7-1 all-time against the Huskers and having lost to them in the 1986 NCAA Regional Final, a sold-out crowd at Kenney Gym helped fuel the fire as Illinois swept Nebraska 15-11, 15-12, 15-5, to advance to the National Semifinals in Indianapolis for the first time in school history. Illinois would go on to face No. 1 Hawaii in the Final Four, dropping an extremely close 3-0 match (19-17, 15-13, 15-11) to the eventual National Champions.
On Sept. 11, 2004, No. 1 USC entered Huff Hall holding a then-NCAA record 52-match winning streak and back-to-back NCAA titles. The Illini took the first set, 30-24, in the title match of the State Farm Illini Classic, but the top-ranked Women of Troy evened the match with a 30-24 victory in set two, then cruised to a 30-12 victory in the third. With the momentum going its way, it seemed USC would surely win its 53rd-straight, but the Illini battled back with a 30-27 win in the fourth to send the match to five. The amped-up Illini jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the fifth and extended it to an insurmountable 9-2. Despite a valiant effort by USC, the Illini closed the lid, 15-8, to become the first team to take down the Women of Troy in 22 months. The win catapulted the Illini into the AVCA Top 10 for the first time in 11 years.
In a golden era of Illinois volleyball full of great players, one stood out from the rest. At 5-11, she wasn't the tallest player on the floor, but as News-Gazette sportswriter Joe Milas described, "While others can jump higher, perhaps hit the ball harder, no one gets more out of each attack attempt than Eggers. Her ability to hang in the air, a la Michael Jordan, lets her see where to place the ball over, around, or through an opponent's block. Her intense expression freezes the other team, and, just when they're expecting a hard-hit ball, Eggers softly taps it over for a winner." A member of the Fighting Illini from 1985-88, Eggers set an NCAA record with a .455 hitting percentage in 1986 and was the driving force behind Illinois' back-to-back Final Four appearances in 1987-88. In four outstanding seasons, Eggers racked up a plethora of awards, including three First-Team All-America honors, three Big Ten Player of the Year awards and the 1985 Big Ten Freshman of the year honor. However, none of these compare to the one she received following her final season, when she was named the Honda/Broderick National Player of the Year. Eggers is the only Illini volleyball player ever to earn this high honor, putting an exclamation point on her truly impressive career.
In the first nine years of Illinois volleyball, the team had four different head coaches. But prior to the 1983 season, Assistant Athletic Director Karol Kahrs hired well-known coach Mike Hebert as the newest program head, demonstrating that the administration was ready to commit to the volleyball program. Despite a disastrous 5-25 campaign in his first year, Hebert's recruiting prowess began to show quickly, and by 1985 the team had arrived. Hebert would lead the Illini for 13 years and take the Orange and Blue to new heights, claiming four Big Ten titles and qualifying for consecutive Final Fours in 1987-88.
In front of a standing room only crowd of 4,141, No. 9 Illinois took down No. 2 Penn State, 3-2, on Sept. 24, 2010, to snap a Big Ten record 65-match conference winning streak for the Nittany Lions. In the first Huff Hall sellout since 1992, the Illini outlasted the second-ranked Nittany Lions 17-25, 25-14, 25-19, 14-25, 17-15 to open 2010 Big Ten play with a W. The match marked All-American outside Laura DeBruler's return after a two-week absence with mono, and she proved a difference-maker in the fifth set, tallying four kills and five digs. The win was the Illini's first over Penn State since 2003, as the Nittany Lions had lost just one other match over the previous 113 contests en route to three straight NCAA championships.
The 1985 Fighting Illini burst onto the scene by winning their first 30 matches of the season, not taking a loss until November. After the first 11 wins, the Illini earned their first-ever AVCA ranking, entering the poll at No. 17. Illinois won the first nine Big Ten matches, climbing as high as No. 8 in the rankings and taking down their first-ever ranked opponent, No. 16 Purdue. After reaching the 30-0 mark, in-state foe Northwestern finally topped the Illini, 3-1, in one of just two regular-season losses. The Illini went 16-2 in conference play to finish second in the Big Ten, behind Purdue (17-1), whose only loss came at the hands of the Illini.
After just missing out to Purdue for the Big Ten title in 1985, the 1986 Illini ran through the conference season with a perfect 18-0 record to capture their first-ever Big Ten title. 13 of their 18 victories were 3-0 sweeps, while they went to five sets just once, at defending conference champion Purdue. On Nov. 19, 1986, the Illini defeated the Boilermakers, 3-1, in Kenney Gym to sweep the season series for the first time and clinch an outright Big Ten title. The Illini completed the undefeated title run with victories against Michigan State and Michigan to set a new record for Big Ten victories which would stand until 1991, when Penn State joined the league and the conference schedule expanded to 20 matches.
Just five matches into his career as Illinois' head coach, Don Hardin returned to his previous employer, Louisville, for the Louisville Invitational. An unranked Illinois squad invaded the No. 15 Cardinals' home arena and dominated on the court, sweeping the match with set scores of 15-10, 15-9, and 16-14. Tracey Marshall had an impressive 29 kills and 21 digs in just three sets for the first of her school-record six career 20-20 matches, and Mary Coleman pitched in an additional 16 kills, 18 digs and three blocks, to help lead Hardin to a triumphant return to his old stomping grounds.
After opening the season 30-0, the 10th-ranked Illini earned their first bid to the NCAA Tournament in 1985. Illinois was sent to Kalamazoo to face No. 14 Western Michigan on Dec. 6, 1985. The Orange and Blue had not beaten the Broncos since 1980, but the talented squad marched into Read Fieldhouse and defeated WMU, 3-1, to capture a victory in its first-ever NCAA Tournament match. Mike Kelly got the call for the first time, as the Illini debuted on the airwaves on WDWS.
With the rekindling of the rivalry between Illinois and Illinois State, the Orange and Blue opened the 2006 season in front of the largest opening-night crowd in years, as 3,129 fans watched the Illini take down the Redbirds in the first annual "Stuff Huff" promotion. Eight years later, "Stuff Huff" continues to draw epic crowds, as over 3,500 fans came out in both 2012 and 2013. The Illini are 7-1 at "Stuff Huff," with the only loss coming to No. 6 Washington in 2013, who would go on to be ranked No. 1 in the nation just a few weeks later. The Illini average nearly 2,800 fans at "Stuff Huff," with three matches bringing in over 3,000 Illini Faithful. "Stuff Huff" has become Spike Squad's big opportunity to show new students on campus what Illinois volleyball is all about, which has helped cement them as the greatest student section in college volleyball.
On Dec. 9, 2011, Illinois defeated Ohio State to advance to the NCAA Elite 8 for the first time since 1992. Playing in the Gainesville Regional, the Illini were pitted against host-team Florida the following night with both teams looking to punch a ticket to the Final Four in San Antonio. Senior outside hitter Colleen Ward had an even bigger challenge--successfully defeat her former teammates. Ward spent her first two seasons playing for the Gators before transferring to Illinois in 2010. Ward did not take long to show where her allegiances stood, as she went on to play one of the best matches of career, hitting .500 with 23 kills and 11 digs. The Illini outlasted the Gators 25-22 in set one, despite a .068 hitting percentage (still better than Florida's .024), but were upstaged in set two, 25-23, even while attacking at a .455 clip. Ward then turned it on in the third, slamming nine kills in 11 errorless swings to take the set 25-14, and kept it up in the fourth with seven more kills, including smashing the final point of the match, to send the Illini to their first Final Four since 1988.
In 1995, Erin Borske was unstoppable. Named First Team All-America as just a sophomore, Borske slashed kills records left and right. When No. 6 Penn State came to town, Borske exploded for 44 kills, after which PSU coach Russ Rose said, "We held Erin to only 44 kills, that's pretty good." Borske finished her sophomore campaign with a Big Ten record of 714 kills, which to this day is over 40 more than the next Illini attacker. But Borske wasn't only strong offensively, the outside hitter registered 396 digs in 1995, which in the pre-libero era ranked second all-time at Illinois. On Nov. 17, Borske seemingly made every touch of the game, putting up 41 kills and 26 digs in a five-set victory over Minnesota. It was one of four 20-20 matches for the talented outside, who set the record at 28 career 20-kills matches - in just two seasons. Unfortunately for the Illini Faithful, with the resignation of Mike Hebert in 1995, Borske chose to leave the University of Illinois following her explosive season, but her two years as an Illini will never be forgotten.
In 1987, the Fighting Illini had two players that were so talented that the conference coaches had no choice but to award them both with the honor of Big Ten Player of the Year. These two players are Mary Eggers and Nancy Brookhart. It is the only time in the history of the award that two players on the same team have been awarded co-MVP honors. Nancy Brookhart set the Illini season kills record at 540, a record which stood until 1995, while Mary Eggers led the conference in hitting percentage for the third straight year and set the conference record for attack percentage in Big Ten play at .487.
In November of 1995, the Illini entered the last week of the regular season sitting in the middle of the pack at 10-8 in Big Ten play with arguably the hardest road trip of the year still to come. In need of a pair of key victories, Mike Hebert promised his team that if they could go to Penn State and Ohio State, both ranked in the top 10, and come home 2-0, they could dye his hair blue. And, for the first time in team history, that's exactly what they did. The Illini eked out their first victory in State College, 3-2, then downed the Buckeyes, 3-1, the next night to finish 12-8 and punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
When the Illini earned their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth in 1985, volleyball also made a big media step, as Mike Kelly broadcast both matches and for the first time Illinois volleyball could be heard on your radio dial. With its success, the Illini earned themselves an unprecedented radio deal in 1986, signing a contract with WDWS for 20 matches. Kelly was on the call that year and Illini standout Denise Fracaro stepped in as the first color commentator. With the Illini's first Big Ten title that season, they continued to draw more and more fans, leading the volleyball team to permanently cement itself on the airwaves, and in 1988 Dave Loane took over the call for the Orange and Blue, where he has broadcast just about every match for the past 25 years.
In 1975, Illinois alum Terry Hite was hired as the second head coach of Illinois volleyball, and with it, she became Illinois' first-ever African-American head coach. A 1972 graduate of Illinois, Hite was a member of "Project 500," a university initiative which nearly tripled the population of African-American students in 1968. Hite played volleyball at U of I when it was still sanctioned by the Physical Education department, and as a senior, she helped the Illini qualify for the first ever NAIAW national tournament. Following graduation, Hite played, coached and helped develop volleyball in the U.S. Virgin Islands, before returning to her alma mater in 1975. The Illini went 40-28 in two seasons under Hite, finishing second at the 1975 Big Ten Championships.
In 2007, freshman outside hitter Laura DeBruler burst onto the scene, nailing 28 kills against Bowling Green in her collegiate debut, in what would be the first of her school-record 36 career 20-kill matches. Standing at just 5-10, her precision and hard-hit swings led to the third-most kills in Illinois history, 577, as the rookie led all freshmen nationally in kills per set en route to All-Big Ten Honorable Mention accolades. DeBruler upped her game in 2008, earning Second Team All-America honors while topping her freshman campaign with 587 kills on the year. In 2009, she out-did herself once again, becoming the fourth Illini in school history to earn First Team All-America honors along with her second-straight unanimous All-Big Ten First Team selection, leading Illinois to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. In 2010, DeBruler helped lead the Illini to signature victories over No. 2 Texas and No. 2 Penn State, then became Illinois' all-time kills (1,883) and attacks (4.806) leader vs. Wisconsin before tragically suffering a career-ending ACL tear just one week later. Despite her shorter stature and shortened career, DeBruler permanently etched herself in the Illini's record books while breathing new life into the Illinois volleyball program.
Despite only playing one season for Illinois, Kirsten Gleis provided what the Illini needed in 1992 to win their fourth Big Ten title and return to the NCAA Elite Eight. A Dutch citizen, Gleis competed for the National Team of Holland in the 1992 Olympic Games prior to her arrival in Champaign. Totaling 456 kills, 45 aces, 106 blocks and 236 digs, Gleis earned a spot on every all-tournament team, with two MVP awards. Surprisingly snubbed by the Big Ten with mere second team honors, neither All-America committee seemed to take any notice, as she was named First Team All-America by both Asics Tiger and the AVCA. Beyond the stat sheet, Gleis posted a near-perfect GPA and was often called upon by Coach Hebert when needing a team leader.
Deep into the 1989 season, the Illini achieved what many programs never have - they knocked off a top-5 team. On Nov. 11, 1989, No. 8 Illinois traveled to Lincoln to take on No. 4 Nebraska in what would prove a match for the ages. In a contest that lasted nearly three hours, Barb Winsett set Illinois' all-time assists record (102) as the team tallied a program-high 121 kills en route to a five-set victory over the Huskers (13-15, 15-6, 11-15, 15-8, 15-12) in front of a crowd of 3,642 at the Colliseum. The Illini also defeated Texas twice that season, with the Longhorns ranked sixth and eighth at the times of the matches. Illinois would go on to make the 1989 Regional Finals in Nebraska, where the No. 5 Huskers would exact revenge to keep Illinois from advancing to its third-straight Final Four. As a program, the Illini now have seven wins over top-5 opponents, including two against the No. 1 team in the nation.
The 2011 season was a year of miraculous firsts for the Illini program. Undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the AVCA poll for the first time ever, Illinois traveled to State College to face Penn State at Rec Hall, a place where the Nittany Lions rarely lost and the Illini had only ever returned victorious once, in 1995. With an untarnished record of 16-0, Illinois headed into the Lions' den on Oct. 8 intent on winning its 17th straight. In front of a crowd of over 5,200 fans, the Illini defeated No. 8 Penn State in five sets to end PSU's record 68-match Big Ten home winning streak and maintain a share of first place in the conference standings. After defeating the Nittany Lions on the road for just the second time ever, Illinois had to face them again on Nov. 11. In a packed house at Huff Hall, the Illini achieved what no Big Ten team had in 10 years--the season sweep--defeating PSU, 3-0, to win both matches against Penn State for the first time in Illinois history and help unseat the eight-time defending conference champions.
Due to the strong fan-base of Illini volleyball, the Orange and Blue needed a new home court with a larger capacity. In 1990, the team got its wish, moving into Huff Hall, where it has remained ever since. Illinois hosted Southern Illinois in the first volleyball match in Huff Hall, winning 3-1. Prior to the match, there was a memorable dedication ceremony which included men's basketball's Whiz Kids, who had played at Huff nearly 50 years earlier, and the unveiling of one of the first volleyball scoreboards in the nation. Illinois had no trouble filling the seats of the larger venue, going on to break the NCAA attendance record in 1992.
In 1987, Thomas Durbin, the newly-crowned Volleyball Chairman for the Non-Revenue Sports division of Illini Pride, founded a student support group called the "Spikers." It was an exciting time for the Illini, coming off their first Big Ten title and on the precipice of back-to-back Final Fours, so corralling members for the fan club was an easy sell. One of the first organized student sections in all of volleyball, the Spikers have evolved over the past 25 years into what we now call the "Spike Squad." Anyone who's been to Huff Hall or watched a match on TV knows that the Spike Squad is one of the greatest, most dedicated fan groups in college volleyball. The Squad likes to show its support on the road as well, most recently dumbfounding Purdue in 2012 by posing as Boilermakers until the match started, at which point the group removed their Purude t-shirts to reveal their orange Illini gear and proceeded to drown out the Purdue fans for the entire match. The Spike Squad has helped the Illini to consistently rank among the NCAA's best in attendance, and we look forward to their continued to support in years to come.
On Oct. 16, 2009, the No. 10 Illini hosted No. 6 Minnesota in a home match at a different venue - Assembly Hall. The recently re-named State Farm Center has a capacity four times the size of Huff Hall, giving the Illini Faithful a chance to post a record crowd for the top-10 showdown. Paired with basketball's Illini Madness, "Spike the Record" night brought in a school-record 7,632 fans to watch what would turn out to be a lights-out performance by the Illini. The Orange and Blue swept the sixth-ranked Golden Gophers, 25-19, 27-25, 25-22, to improve to 14-3 on the year and claim sole possession of second place in the Big Ten. It was the second volleyball match ever to be played at the Hall, and the first since hosting a top-ranked Hawaii squad in 1981 in front of a then-record crowd of over 800, which may sound meager by today's standards but exceeded Kenney Gym's capacity at the time.
On Sept. 3, 2010, the Fighting Illini headed to Austin to face a No. 2 Texas squad that had not lost in Gregory Gym since 2008. The 2009 NCAA runner-ups were riding a 25-match home winning streak and were poised to win their 1,000th victory in program history. However, the No. 5 Illini had other plans, sweeping to a 3-0 victory over the Longhorns to bust the winning streak and hand UT its first 3-0 loss at home in seven years. Laura DeBruler paced the Illini with 17 kills, while Michelle Bartsch hit .526 with 10 kills on 19 errorless swings, as the Illini attacked at an impressive .361 clip against the highly-touted squad.
Founded prior to the 1983 season, which coincided with the hiring of Mike Hebert, the Illini Networkers, Inc., have provided endless support to the volleyball program over the past 30 years. The original purpose of the group was to provide some "hometown" support and create a family atmosphere for the student-athletes, as well as to help the staff with special events. Over the years, the Networkers have established traditions such as the Alumni Match and the team banquet and have contributed greatly with generous donations and fundraisers, most recently helping to send the team to Italy in May, 2013. When the team moved into Huff Hall, the Networkers were asked to help make a locker room for the girls, and in just three days, the group raised the necessary $15,000 to do so. The Fighting Illini program would not be what it is today if not for the continued support of the Illini Networkers.
The Illini hosted the first annual Illini Classic in 1984, featuring Missouri, Northern Illinois and Notre Dame. While the Tigers won the inaugural tournament, the Illini have since claimed 22 of the past 28 tournament titles. The Classic has seen some top squads go down at the hands of the Illini, including No. 1 USC in 2004, top-10 Nebraska squads in 1988 and 1992, and hot-hitting No. 11 Oregon in 2008. The Illini hosted the 30th annual Illini Classic on Sept. 12-14, 2013, with powerhouses No. 2 Texas, No. 6 Washington, (RV) Arizona State and Youngstown State. The tournament saw nail-biter after nail-biter, as Illinois edged ASU in five and the Sun Devils upset No. 2 Texas, the defending NCAA champs.
Four weeks into the 2012 season, a young Fighting Illini squad headed to one of the most difficult courts in the nation, the home of the Texas Longhorns. A bomb threat in Austin that morning prevented the Illini from a chance to practice at Gregory Gym, but several tense hours later, the Orange and Blue were cleared to take on the sixth-ranked Longhorns. Entering the weekend with a 3-4 record and four underclassmen in the starting lineup, the inexperienced Illini squad took down No. 6 Texas in an intense, 3-2, victory, in which every player in the lineup stepped up. Redshirt freshman Jocelynn Birks had a 21-kill double-double, sophomore Anna Dorn hit .706 with 12 kills, and sophomore Liz McMahon stuffed 11 blocks to lead Illinois past Texas in five. Following the loss, Texas won the next 17-straight matches and claimed the 2012 NCAA Championship. The Illini would go on to sweep the tournament as Birks earned MVP honors.
In 1992, the Fighting Illini, in their third season at Huff Hall, had captured the hearts of Champaign-Urbana. The Orange and Blue went 32-4 en route to their fourth Big Ten title in seven years, leading to the opportunity to host an NCAA Regional. Illinois went 16-1 at home that year, and the Illini Faithful came out in droves to watch their favorites take down high class competition. Of those 17 home matches, 11 were viewed by crowds of 3,000 or more, including four sellouts of over 4,000 fans. On Nov. 27, Huff Hall sold out a week in advance for the first time in Illinois history for the Illini's 3-0 sweep of No. 9 Penn State. The Illini then defeated No. 22 Ohio State and No. 7 Nebraska in front of sellout crowds in the NCAA Tournament -- the first NCAA Tournament matches ever to sell out in advance. On Dec. 11, Illinois hosted No. 2 Stanford in the NCAA Regional in front of the largest crowd in Huff history, a standing room only 4,316 fans, to run the season tally to 52,666 fans and set a new NCAA attendance record. The total, along with the season average of 3,098 fans, remains the most in Illinois history.
In 1989, Laura Bush did something unprecedented: she was named First Team CoSIDA Academic All-America, Second Team AVCA All-America, and Third Team Asics Tiger All-America. As a junior, the middle blocker led the team in kills (449), blocks (116) and digs (308) while maintaining a fantastic grade point average to earn All-America honors for her performances both on the court and in the classroom. She is the only Illini ever to earn both All-America honors in the same season, and with her Academic All-America award in 1990, she also became the first and only Illini ever to garner the high academic honor twice.
Early in the 1998 season, Illinois competed in the Chicago Challenge, taking on No. 1 Penn State and No. 7 Texas. The Illini opened the season 5-0 prior to the tournament. Despite falling to the top-ranked Nittany Lions, Illinois pulled out a come-from-behind victory over the seventh-ranked Longhorns to demonstrate the vast improvement the Illini were showing in Don Hardin's third season as head coach. Despite an 8-12 record in conference play, the non-conference victory in Austin helped earn the Illini a bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they would go on to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since the tournament's expansion to 64 teams.
On Sept. 23, 1989, ESPN came to Champaign-Urbana for the very first time to broadcast the No. 6 Illini's match vs. Minnesota at Kenney Gym. The Illini had played on ESPN once before, when they took on Hawaii in the 1988 Final Four. The Golden Gophers battled back from down 2-1 to claim the match in five. However, the Illini would get their first victory on ESPN just over a month later in West Lafayette, defeating Purdue, 3-1, on Nov. 11.
In 2008, the Illini hosted a strong tournament field in the annual State Farm Illini Classic. Illinois advanced to the title match with wins over UNC and No. 23 New Mexico State, to find itself matched up with No. 11 Oregon, who was coming off a 2007 Sweet 16 appearance. The Ducks cruised to a 2-0 lead with set scores of 25-14 and 25-16, hitting .462 and .444, respectively, but the Illini did not give up and battled all the way back to win the final three sets, 26-24, 25-21, 15-13, to capture their 18th Illini Classic title in 25 years. Sophomore Laura DeBruler dazzled with 31 kills in the match, to lead the Illini to a most memorable victory at Huff Hall.
In 1985, senior Denise Fracaro moved from outside hitter to middle blocker. In addition to tallying 426 kills, second only to Eggers' 431 that season, Fracaro registered a whopping 225 total blocks, setting a new Big Ten and Illinois record, both of which still stand 28 years later.
From 1978-88, the Orange and Blue were never without a member of the Schwarz family. Margie Schwarz was the first to join the Fighting Illini in 1978, and in 1979, she was joined by her sister Liz. The pair played together through 1981, and the following season, Rita Schwarz made the squad. Rita set the first record for career aces, registering 112, which now sits just outside the top 10. When Rita was a senior in 1985, her sister Chris earned a spot on the team, becoming the fourth Schwarz sister to play for the Orange and Blue. She followed in Rita's footsteps, tallying 134 service aces, which now ranks seventh all-time in the Illinois record books, leading to the memorable cheer, "Nice serve, Chris!" In 1985, the Illini hosted the first annual Alumni Match, which proved to be a Schwarz family reunion, as for the first time ever, all four Schwarz sisters donned Orange and Blue and played on the same court (despite being on opposite sides!).
The 2003 Illini posted their best Big Ten finish in 11 years, earning an opportunity to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The Illini took down Murray State and No. 19 Louisville in back-to-back 3-0 sweeps to advance to their first regional since 1998. Illinois earned itself a trip to the Aloha State to take on No. 2 Hawaii, and with the excitement, a huge conga line formed in Huff Hall following the defeat of the Cardinals, with leis all around, including around the neck of Head Coach Don Hardin!
In just its fourth season as a varsity program, the 1977 Fighting Illini, under new head coach Chris Accornero, won 38 matches, second only to the 1985 season, and qualifed for the AIAW National Championships for the first time. With a second-place finish at the IAIAW State Championships, the Illini advanced to MAIAW Regionals in Grand Rapids, Mich. For the second week in a row, Illinois went 4-1 to finish second in the region and earn a bid to the national tournament for the first time. With a trip to Provo, Utah, Illinois faced perennial powerhouses such as UCLA and Long Beach State for the first time, and defeated North Carolina for its first-ever nationals win.
In 1974, in the wake of Title IX, the University of Illinois Athletic Association began a women's athletic program, sponsoring seven teams that had previously fallen under Physical Education; one of those was volleyball. For the first time, women's volleyball received a large budget and garnered much attention from the media. Kathleen Haywood was appointed the team's head coach by Assistant Athletic Director and former volleyball coach Karol Ann Kahrs, and led the Illini to a very successful inaugural season. In its first year as a varsity program, Illinois went 19-9, finished fourth at IAIAW State Championships and qualified for the MAIAW Regional Championships.
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