Laura DeBruler had a career-high 31 kills vs. Michigan State.
Nov. 3, 2007
Champaign, Ill. - Illinois has had few victories as satisfying as Saturday's 30-28, 23-30, 30-28, 30-25 win over Michigan State. The players and coaching staff haven't had to be reminded of just how close they had come at home only to be denied in some way or another. A season where a team filled with freshmen has won an astounding six straight matches on the road have kept the Illini in contention for an NCAA tournament berth, but it was extra special to finish a match in front of its faithful fans.
"This win is great for our girls and our fans," said assistant coach Kevin Hambly. "Our fans have been struggling through this season with us. They come out every night and support us. I'm glad we got this for our fans."
The victory moves Illinois into sole possession of third place in the Big Ten with a 7-7 conference record and improves its overall mark to 15-9.
Laura DeBruler made another statement in pursuit of Big Ten Freshman of the Year with a career-high 31 kills, 13 digs and a .397 attack percentage. The go-to player finishes the weekend with 53 kills and 136 attacks and just 15 kills short of 500 with six matches remaining in the regular season.
"Laura's 31 kills were remarkable," Hambly said. "Her composure and determination on the court scored us those key points. She took over the match for us and got us this win."
Illinois needed the emotion produced by the Huff Hall crowd on Saturday. With five straight home matches going to five games and the Illini up two games to one, the players and fans alike were determined not to go to five on this night. Michigan State built a 6-2 game four lead, but the Illinois locomotive picked up steam and wasn't slowed until it had scored 12 straight points.
Freshman Johannah Bangert served 11 straight points, including an ace to the back row forcing Michigan State to call the second of its two timeouts in the run.
Still the victory wasn't easy. Ahead 22-17, Illinois relinquished five straight points as the Spartans tied the score. Illinois regained its composure, though, to out-score MSU 8-3 from there, fittingly the final point a thundering swing from DeBruler.
On Friday, Hambly admitted that much of practice had been devoted to the block and it has started to show on the court with the Illini converting nine blocks vs. the Spartans.
"The biggest thing we did tonight was make good adjustments on the block," Hambly said. "When our players found their time and rhythm against MSU, we were able to dominate."
Another important aspect of the win were the points made in critical situations in games one and three. Defensive plays by both DeBruler and Ashley Edinger kept rallies alive and forced Michigan State hitting errors. Illinois scored the final two points of the first game to eke out a 30-28 victory.
After Michigan State hit for a torrid .457 pace in winning game two, the Illini were able to make some adjustments in games three and four.
The Illini found themselves down 9-6 early then 27-26 late in the game three. DeBruler scored in every way possible in the third game, converting 12 kills in 20 swings. She had three of the final four points for the Illini in the game.
Freshman setter Hillary Haen had one of her best performances as an Illini, in posting 58 assists and ten digs. She found Vicki Brown on the back slide a number of times as Brown totaled 13 kills and seven blocks.
Illinois had to withstand the assault of Michigan State's Ashley Schatzle, who posted 24 kills while hitting .314 and veteran Katie Johnson, who had 18 kills. The Illinois defense neutralized the attack, however, and forced the Spartans to hit just .022 in the fourth game in taking them out of rhythm. The Illini had five of its nine team blocks in game four.
"Our defensive mentality is what won us the match," Hambly said. "Diving for everything is what set the tone. We were determined to make plays and you could see that the players wanted it."
"Everyone contributed to tonight's win," DeBruler said of her team's determination. "We had the attitude going for every ball and winning every point."
Illinois hopes that the victory starts a streak in the positive direction at home. The Illini put their six-match road winning streak on the line Wednesday at No. 7 Wisconsin, then hosts Michigan on Nov. 10.