Abby Nelson had a team-leading seven block assists vs. Illinois State.
Sept. 16, 2008
Normal, Ill. - Illinois has won 17 of the last 18 matches against Illinois State, but the last two at Redbird Arena didn't come easily. Three years ago, the Illini escaped in five sets. Tuesday night after several gut-check type moments throughout the match, the Illini held off ISU to win 18-15, 25-23, 25-23, 25-23.
Sophomore Laura DeBruler paced the way with 24 kills, but the Illini had to overcome a season-high 27 hitting errors, many of which came in the first set, to prevail.
Illinois used the strong block to help close out some rallies, especially in the fourth set. ISU led that set, 10-5 and 13-10, but Illinois scored five of its next seven points on the block, with sophomore Abby Nelson having a hand in each. First Nelson and freshman Michelle Bartsch blocked on the right side down the line, then Nelson and Bartsch again, then junior Kylie McCulley and Bartsch. Two points later, Nelson teamed with DeBruler in the middle, then Nelson and Turner to make the score 17-15.
It looked as if the Illini were going to close it out, building a 20-17 lead, but thanks to the right side attack of MC Richmond (team high 14 kills), the Redbirds took a 23-22 lead. But DeBruler had a pair of big swings and McCulley stuffed one down to close out the match.
That fourth set mirrored the previous two where the Illini had to withstand ISU rallies. Statistically the match was pretty even with Illinois holding a slight .169-.152 hitting advantage. The Redbirds won the serve-receive game with seven aces to Illinois' one, The Illini had nine service errors, but several of ISU's service errors late were crucial.
Illinois had just one block in the first set, but three in each of the next two and 7.5 in the final set. Nelson paced the way with seven block assists and Bartsch added five. Bartsch also had a solid match offensively with 11 kills and a team-leading .308 hitting percentage. McCulley was second to DeBruler in kills with 13.
The Illini out-dug the Redbirds, 84-80, paced by 24 from junior libero Ashley Edinger.
"Ashley had one of her best matches ever," Hardin said. "Had it not been for her calm and collected play under pressure, we would have been in the game five."
Illinois State hit .306 in the first set by under .100 the rest of the way. In fact, the Redbirds were hitting .478 in the second in building an early lead. That's when DeBruler got hot. The junior, ranked 22nd in the nation in kills, had five kills in set two and eight in set three, all while hitting close to .400.
"We like this rivalry because it has a big-time feel to it," Hardin said. "This is a tough place to play. It will help prepare us for many of the Big Ten venues we'll face. This is an early season pressure match and I thought both teams had trouble responding to that pressure, but in the end we kept fighting and were calm in some crucial situations.