Stefanie Alde had another double-digit kills night vs. Purdue.
Oct. 8, 2007
Champaign, Ill. - A fair warning to Illini fans coming to Huff this season: get comfortable. Better yet, prepare to get out of your seat. For the third time during the Big Ten season, the Illini came up short in a thrilling, emotional battle. Purdue built a two games to none lead, saw the Illini come roaring back, and recovered to eke out a 30-21, 30-22, 20-30, 25-30, 16-14 victory in front of a national television Big Ten Network audience.
"Our crowd gives us energy all the time," Illinois head coach Don Hardin said. "Yes it's frustrating to come up short in these five-game matches, but when we are finally able to pull these out, I can't imagine how loud this crowd will be."
In other words, Illinois volleyball is definitely worth the price of admission. Those that were there to witness it in person or via the television, saw the Illini get an emotional lift from right-side hitter, senior Stefanie Alde. With the Boilermakers keying on fellow senior, middle blocker Vicki Brown, Alde was the engine that kept Illini train rolling. She had 16 kills and hit .414, but equally as important was the energy she provided.
"It's because of Stef Alde that we have even been in these five-game matches," Hardin said of the six that have gone the distance this season. "She has fueled the fire and provided the leadership for us to keep fighting."
Illinois recovered from as sloppy of two games as it's had all season. In those games, the Illini hit .053 and .114 respectively, while Purdue, led by Stephanie Lynch (21 kills), hit .500 and .333. Lynch had eight kills and hit .800 in those games while the Boilermakers out-blocked Illinois 5-0.
In the next two games it wasn't necessarily the quantity, but the quality and timing of the blocks for Illinois. The Illini had seven in the final three games, including four assists from Johannah Bangert. Fellow freshman Laura DeBruler picked up steam as well, using the block like a rented mule, and feeding off the desire of her teammates. DeBruler finished the night with 24 kills and hit .254 with 16 of those kills coming in the final three games.
Bangert, who had 11 kills on the night, had one of the biggest stretches of play in game four. With Purdue trying to recover from a mid-game deficit and the Illini holding to a precarious 27-24 lead, Bangert was the beneficiary of a great pass from junior Kristine Anderson and teamed with first DeBruler, then Alde, on the block to all but put the game out of reach.
The fifth game was hard-fought as any this season. Purdue led 9-7 only to see the Illini tie the score on a block from Brown and freshman Nicole Kump. Purdue went in front 13-11 before DeBruler converted on a tough angle and setter Lizzie Bazzetta and Bangert teamed on a stuff block. The Illini fought off the first match point on a heady play from Bazzetta, who tipped it on two to an empty court, but Purdue behind big swinging Lynch and Samantha Mader (13 kills) put the match away.
For the second match in a row, the Illini won the digs battle (74-68), paced by 16 from sophomore Ashley Edinger and Bazzetta and 14 from DeBruler, and were only aced three times. In the end, though, Illinois couldn't overcome an unusually high number of hitting errors (35) caused in part by 15 Purdue blocks.
Besides just getting over the hump in five-game matches, the Illini face the task of overcoming a 2-4 start in the Big Ten. At 10-6 overall, the Illini are still in a tight battle with several teams for an upper division Big Ten spot, which in most years means an NCAA berth.
"We need a game where we can finish consistently," Hardin said. "Our team has to have confidence in themselves and the coaching staff to complete these matches."
Illinois heads to the road this weekend at Iowa and No. 12 Minnesota before coming home Oct. 19 to face No. 3 Penn State.