Rasa Virsilaite had a career-best 23 kills in the season finale at Iowa.
Nov. 26, 2005
Champaign, Ill. - On Friday night, Rasa Virsilaite aggravated an already torn cartilage in her knee. On Saturday, Virsilaite put forth a career night with 23 kills and 11 digs to go along with a .442 hitting percentage in helping Illinois to a 21-30, 30-26, 30-24, 30-26 victory over Iowa in her final match of her collegiate career. Fellow senior Rachel VanMeter added 30 kills as the Illini overcame a slow start and completed an impressive victory.
"Rasa's performance all things considering was phenomenal," said Illinois Head Coach Don Hardin.
The senior leadership really came to the forefront in game three, where VanMeter had 12 kills and hit .458, while Virsilaite had six kills in seven swings to hit .857 for the game. With her 85 attacks on Saturday, VanMeter finishes the year with 1,786 attacks, shattering the old Illinois single-season record of 1,612. This weekend, she also set the career attack record, finishing with 4,462, breaking the old mark of 4,374 held by current assistant coach Mary (Coleman) Hambly.
Beth Vrdsky, who set an Illinois' single-season digs record had 29 vs. Iowa, giving her 527 for the year. "Beth's defense early really was impressive. Like Rasa, she hasn't been 100 percent, yet the strides she has made at the libero spot are really encouraging."
Illinois finishes the year 16-15 overall, 7-13 in the Big Ten, completing its 20th winning season in the past 23 campaigns. The Illini have faced a mountain of adversity from injury to illness, yet still managed to finish the second half of the Big Ten season 5-5 and winners of three of their final four matches.
"This has just been a huge gutsy performance from our team," Hardin said. "A lot of teams would have tanked, but this group continued to believe in each other and fought through to pull out a winning season. That's really remarkable."
Freshman setter Lizzie Bazzetta had a solid night as well with 65 assists and a career-best 20 digs. "The last two nights, Lizzie has really set well," Hardin said. "For a freshman setter to put up these types of performances on the road in the Big Ten really helped us over the top."
While the outside hitters were the big story of the night, Illinois managed to use the back slide to its advantage in key situations with Vicki Brown, who tallied 11 kills on the night, the beneficiary.
Defensively, Illinois had 92 digs, the most of any match this year, topping the 81 digs set vs. Purdue on Nov. 16 in a five-game victory. The previous best this season in a four-game match was 70 vs. Austin Peay on Sept. 2. Stephanie Obermeier had 14 digs, joining Vrdsky, Bazzetta, and Virsilaite in double digits in that department.
Illinois really showed some spark in the game four. After Iowa came back to tie the game at 19-19, Meghan Macdonald served four straight points after a time-out to push Illinois in front 23-19. Iowa came back to tie the game at 24 and 25 before the Illini scored five of the final six points. Fittingly the seniors had the final four kills of the season, three by Virsilaite and the final booming swing from one of Illinois' all-time greats in VanMeter, her 670th of the season and 1,660th over career, fourth on Illinois' all-time list.
Illinois overcame a .137 hitting percentage in the first came to finish at .229 for the night, including a scorching .450 clip in game three. Macdonald led the way in blocking with one solo and four block assists as the Illini out-blocked the Hawkeyes (14-19, 4-16) 10-9.