Illinois combined for 11 blocks vs. Wisconsin
Oct. 19, 2008
It may sound like merely what pundits call "coach speak," but for Illinois head coach Don Hardin, concentrating on playing it point by point and not looking at the scoreboard has been the key to success. That's one of the many things that he liked about his team's performance in a straight sets 27-25, 25-17, 25-22 victory over visiting and 19th-ranked Wisconsin.
In reflection, that was one of the stumbling blocks that Hardin saw during his club's heartbreaking five-set loss to previously winless in conference Northwestern on Friday. On Sunday, however, the 17th-ranked Illini played steady volleyball, especially on defense. With the victory, Illinois has now won four of its last five matches and sits in a tie for third in the Big Ten with the team the Illini are tied with, 21st-ranked Purdue, invading Huff Hall Wednesday for a nationally-televised Big Ten Network match.
"We tried to keep our eyes off the scoreboard, not really think about the outcome, and just play," Hardin said. "Friday night we were a little too outcome oriented. Today we played every point for itself and I think that came across in the outcome."
It was that mindset that helped Illinois stave off two set points in the opening frame before back-to-back kills from Laura DeBruler gave the Illini the set 27-25. DeBruler was masterful in that set with 11of her match-high 14 kills while hitting .474. The sophomore, who entered the week ranked 12th in the nation in kills per set, had just five hitting errors on the afternoon good for a .237 overall clip.
The Illini defense was equally impressive, putting back seven Badger attacks with blocks. At the center of that attack was Johannah Bangert, the nation's fourth-leading blocker, who had five of her six blocks in the set. The rest of her teammates were there as well. Freshman Michelle Bartsch was a force for the Illini with eight kills and five blocks. For the afternoon, Illinois out-blocked Wisconsin, 11-4.
"They are a really good offensive team and are big at the net," Hardin said. "To hold them down to a .160 hitting percentage is really significant."
"The fact that the block was there made all the difference," DeBruler said. "Even when we didn't get a block, it diverted the shots around the blocks so that the back row could be there to make the passes."
That in turn led to a great distribution by the Illini setters Lizzie Bazzetta (team-high 19 assists and 11 digs) and Hillary Haen (18 assists). Hardin cited the ability to get middle hitters Bangert and Abby Nelson 14 swings apiece in the three sets as a major factor. Nelson and Bangert finished the day with six and five kills, respectively, with Nelson also adding five blocks. Junior libero Ashley Edinger had 10 digs, most for passes right on the money.
The Orange and Blue came out firing on all cylinders in the second set, relying heavily on their middle blockers, as Bangert's rhythm played a vital factor for the Illini. The Illini tied up the score at 13-all and then closed out the set with a 12-4 run. Bazzetta had an incredible one-handed set that Bangert put away beautifully.
In a back and forth third set that saw 11 tie scores and five lead changes, the Illini, despite hitting .088, held off the Badgers, 25-22 to take the set and the match.
Brittney Dolgner led the Badgers with 10 kills along with 10 digs, but no Wisconsin player hit above .250.
Although Wednesday's battle with Purdue has conference standings and potential NCAA seed implications as we approach the halfway point in the Big Ten race, DeBruler says that the team plans on taking the same approach as the Illini had Sunday.
"We really just put Friday's match out of our minds and just stuck to what we know," she said. "You have to treat every single set like it's going to be a fight."