Junior Laura DeBruler was named tournament MVP of the State Farm Illini Classic for the second-consecutive year.
Sept. 12, 2009
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Tournament MVP Laura DeBruler lived up to the title on Saturday night, blasting 28 kills against No. 16 Saint Louis (4-5) and sealing the State Farm Illini Classic title for the Illini. No. 14 Illinois (6-1) was taken to a fourth set for the first time this season, but kept its composure to earn the 3-1 victory with set scores 25-22, 25-14, 18-25, 25-23. Sophomore Michelle Bartsch and senior Kylie McCulley each posted double-digit kills against the Billikens and were named to the all-tournament team along with junior setter Hillary Haen, who tallied 47 assists.
DeBruler had 63 combined kills in the tournament and tied Rachel VanMeter for most 20-kill matches in an Illinois career with her 29th Saturday night vs. Saint Louis.
"We are starting to find our identity," head coach Kevin Hambly said. "This is the first match that has gone more than three sets for us, and it's nice to see how we responded. They came back at us, and we responded well. Overall, we are starting to find out who we are as a team."
Illinois came out firing and grabbed a quick 2-0 lead thanks to hot-hitting in the first two sets. The Orange and Blue hit .394 in the opening frame compared to only .229 by Saint Louis and followed it up by hitting .364 in set two while holding the Billikens to .156. The Illini's well-balanced attack was paced by six kills from DeBruler and four each from McCulley and Bartsch in the first set. DeBruler and Bartsch posted identical totals in the second set and dominated the Billikens with a 80 percent sideout rate.
DeBruler posted eight kills in the third set, but it wasn't enough as the Illini had four service errors and dropped the set. But the Illini responded well in the fourth which turned into a hard-fought battle by both teams. Illinois controlled the set from the start, taking an 18-11 lead until the Billikens went on a 12-5 run to knot the match at 23 apiece. The Illini took the next point on a kill by Bartsch and sealed the victory on the next point thanks to a double-block from freshman Erin Johnson and McCulley.
"Our team did a really great job of handling the pressure," Haen said. "We learned a lot about ourselves this weekend and showed a lot of character. We have a lot of energy and are really supporting each other. As the year goes on, we will continue to get better."
Senior Ashley Edinger paced the Illini with 18 digs while McCulley (16), Bartsch (15) and DeBruler (10) each posted double-doubles.
"Everyone did a great job all around the board," DeBruler said. "Ashley did a great job digging, Hillary had great setting and the whole team contributed to the win."
Illinois began the day with a three-set victory over Illinois State, 25-18, 25-11, 25-16. The Illini got another good performance from DeBruler, who followed up her 19-kill match vs. Cincinnati with 16 kills and a .517 attack percentage vs. the Redbirds. Senior outside hitter Kylie McCulley had one of her best matches of her career with 13 kills and a .379 attack percentage. Johannah Bangert hit .600 with three kills and three blocks.
"I felt loose today," McCulley said of her performance. "I put everything aside and focused on doing my job."
Illinois trailed only at 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 of the second set. The Illini scored seven of the final eight points of the second set, then jumped to a 9-1 advantage in the third set, giving Illinois 16 of 18 points total in that stretch.
Set one was tight until near the end when the Illini broke open a16-16 tie by scoring nine of the last 11 points. McCulley served seven straight points in the run.
The Illini hit consistently, achieving over .300 percentage in all three sets for .330 average for the match. Illinois held ISU to a .113 for the match, including a -.029 clip in the second set.
Illinois heads to West Lafayette, Ind., for the Purdue Active Ankle Classic where it will square off against Louisville and Ohio next weekend. The Illini meet the Cardinals at 4 p.m. CT on Friday, Sept. 18.