Kylie McCulley had 14 kills, many coming in crucial points in sets three and four.
Nov. 7, 2008
Iowa City, Iowa - No. 16 Illinois overcame a slow start, but came through with its sixth straight victory and ninth in its last ten matches with a 20-25, 25-11, 25-23, 25-22 victory at a much improved Iowa squad in Iowa City. The victory keeps Illinois in sole possession of second place in the Big Ten with a 10-3 conference mark and improved its overall record to 19-5. The 19 wins are the most for the Illini since 2004.
"Iowa fought tooth and nail all the way down to the stretch," said Illinois head coach Don Hardin of Iowa's resurgence. "They are a much different team this year. So to come out of here with a win is a big accomplishment."
Illinois has been road warriors this season, going 5-1 away from home in Big Ten play. This comes a year after recording a 6-4 mark in conference road matches in 2007.
"Any win away from home is absolutely fantastic," said Illinois sophomore setter Hillary Haen.
After falling behind 13-5 in the first set, the Illini rallied to cut it to a one-point deficit. After Iowa came back to take the first set, the Illini picked up steam. Illinois hit .750 (15-0-20) in the second set, paced by sophomore outside hitter Laura DeBruler, who hit .714 with five kills and freshman right side hitter Michelle Bartsch, who hit 1.000 with five kills in five attacks.
DeBruler led three Illini in double figures in kills with 22 while hitting .333 for the match. Bartsch had her third straight double-digit kill match with 15 kills and a .433 attack percentage. Kylie McCulley added 14 kills.
The Illini played about as well as they could in taking the second set 25-11. Illinois got its block going, out-blocking the Hawkeyes 4-0 and out-hitting Iowa .750-.069 in that second set.
Illinois showed its biggest tenacity in the third set. Iowa took a 20-16 lead only to see the Illini battle back. DeBruler scored three straight points to cut the gap to 20-19. After the Hawkeyes (13-22, 5-8 in Big Ten) went back in front 22-21, the Illini completed the comeback. McCulley tooled the block to tie it at 22-22 then hit a cross-court winner to give Illinois the lead for good at 23-22. Middle blocker Abby Nelson (five kills two blocks) converted a putaway to make it 24-22 and the Illini pulled it out after an Iowa attack error.
The fourth set was basically a side-out affair with Iowa holding eight straight one-point advantages. Illinois finally broke away off the serve of DeBruler. A pair of kills from Bartsch and another from McCulley made it 19-17 Illini. McCulley had a couple more kills down the stretch then DeBruler finished it off with a kill off the Iowa block that bounced all the way into the stands.
The Illini setters had a big night. Haen had 36 assists and eight digs while senior Lizzie Bazzetta added a double-double with 24 assists and 15 digs. Both Haen and Bazzetta gave Illinois' hitters a lot of one-on-one opportunities to be able to convert in out-hitting Iowa .324-.170 for the match. Three Illinois players were in double figures in digs, paced by Illinois' all-time digs leader Ashley Edinger's 17 and DeBruler who completed a double-double with 14 digs. Illinois out-blocked Iowa 8-4.5. The nation's block leader, Johannah Bangert, had six block assists while Bartsch added five.
"Tonight's match was a matter of a few points here and there," Hardin said. "The match played out about the way we expected. There wasn't much margin for error."
Illinois travels to Minnesota Saturday night. A victory would give the Illini a two-match advantage for second place in the Big Ten and give them their first 20-win season since 2003.