Texas-sized victory for No. 5 Illini
Sept. 3, 2010
Austin, Texas - There will be other big matches for Illinois volleyball for sure, but Friday night, the fifth-ranked Illini posted one of their most impressive non-conference victories in school history. Illinois took care of No. 2 Texas, a team that came within an eyelash of the national title in 2009, on its home floor 25-23, 25-18, 25-18 in front of a stunned crowd of 2,165.
"This is just another step for us," said Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly cautioned. "Our players have been looking forward to this since we told them we were coming here in spring. We were looking forward to playing this match in this environment. We felt like we got nervous and played soft against Hawaii to end last year, so this was a chance to come back and keep ourselves going against a great team. I'm excited about beating a great opponent, but we have to continue to get better because we have many more down the road."
Illinois won the serve-pass battle and hit an impressive .361 with six aces in handing Texas its first loss in its last 26 home matches. The Longhorns were also swept in a match for the first time in three years and swept at home for the first time since 2003.
Senior All-American Laura DeBruler scored through Texas' imposing block for 10 kills in 13 swings as the Illini snuck out a two-point squeaker in the opening set. DeBruler finished the night with 17 kills while junior Michelle Bartsch finished with 10 kills while hitting .526.
Illinois jumped to a 19-15 lead in the opening set after the first of two aces from the most recent Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Hillary Haen. Texas battled back to tie it at 23 before DeBruler scored from the back row and Johannah Bangert, Haen and Colleen Ward converted a triple block on Texas All-American Juliann Faucette to end it. Bangert finished the night hitting .615 with nine kills in 13 swings while being in on four Illinois' 5.5 blocks.
"We showed we have a lot of weapons and Hillary did a great job distributing the ball, but it all started with great passing," Hambly said. "If Texas had passed a little better, we would have seen more of their weapons. They are going to be really good at the end of the year."
Illinois sided out at an incredible 84 percent in the second set all the while hitting .370. While the Longhorns were able to shut down DeBruler in the second set, junior Colleen Ward had four kills and hit .571 and the middles added three kills. Ward served four straight points as Illinois extended its lead from 17-13 to 21-13 en route to taking set two.
The third set was close with Texas' Rachael Adams hitting .600 with three kills. The set was tied at 11-11 before Ward again provided the necessary separation. A week after serving 11 straight points vs. BYU, Ward served up seven straight against Texas, forcing the Longhorns to call both of their timeouts. The barrage started with an ace in the back row. The next serve forced an overpass that Bangert put away. DeBruler pushed a roll shot off the block to make it 14-11. Bartsch hit .750 with six kills in the third set and two kills in the rally as the lead extended to a commanding 18-11.
"Colleen is really working hard at being a great server," Hambly said. "She has a nice rhythm right now. Let's hope we can keep it going."
Illinois posted just its fourth victory against a top-five opponent and first since topping No. 1 USC in the 2004. The Illini also now have a 6-5 record all-time against Texas, including a 2-1 mark in Gregory Gymnasium.
Haen had 39 assists while freshman libero Jennifer Bonilla was nails on passes and finished with a team-best 18 digs. The Illini we aced just twice as a team.
Illinois plays Florida A&M in Austin Saturday afternoon at 4 pm.