Keelin Bourne has been back to full strength this spring.
April 22, 2009
Champaign, Ill. - University of Illinois volleyball is nearing the completion of the spring season. Here are some news and nuggets from the team.
Haen wins `Queen of the Beach'
Saturday the Fighting Illini conducted a 2-on-2 `Queen of the Beach' Tournament. Eight Illinois players participated and each was teamed with the other seven teammates. The teams dueled matches to 25 points with the person with the most points overall declared the champion. The winner - sophomore setter Hillary Haen.
Haen indicates that this was her first real experience playing beach volleyball and the benefits were many.
"When you get on the beach you learn a lot about yourself, about how you move even on the hard court," Haen said. "You have to learn how to adjust in the sand because you are so much slower and don't jump as high. It also tests how you do playing a new style. That will help us in times we play a team with a completely different style than we're used to. The faster you can adapt to it, the better."
Even as an assistant, Kevin Hambly instituted many competitive games in practice, including dividing the court in half and playing two-on-two matches.
"The person that wins every day varies," Haen said. "No matter your position being able to play those games helps develop you as a full player."
That versatility will be one of the cornerstones of Illinois volleyball in 2009. Perhaps there is no more versatile player on the team than Keelin Bourne. In high school at Millard North in Omaha, Neb., Bourne was the primary setter one year and a back row setter and front row attacker the other two.
But in March of 2008, Bourne tore the labrum in her hip and underwent surgery and physical therapy prior to enrolling at Illinois.
Bourne wasn't back to pull strength until the week of Thanksgiving, but got back in the action in stages, working first at passing, then a little on her footwork for blocking.
"It was hard," Bourne said. "This is the first time since I started playing volleyball 10 years ago that I've been injured. The girls really included me in everything, though, and the coaches were good about keeping me updated. I'm glad to be back now."
The Illinois coaching staff explored an option to put Bourne as a back-up setter to Haen and saw her perhaps at right side as well. This spring Bourne has played primarily as an outside hitter, but it's her versatility and size that give her a great shot at seeing game action.
"That was a big advantage," Bourne said. "I could play outside one day, but don't have to learn right side or setter from scratch. I'm happy that I have had experience all over."
As far as getting back into the flow of the things, Bourne said, "It started out a little frustrating. I hadn't played for a while and our system is a lot different from what I'm used to. The first couple of weeks were kind of hard, but one day the passing just kind of clicked for me. I felt good about that. A couple of weeks later the hitting clicked. I'm just excited to be playing again."
Bartsch a major part of offensive attack
One of the major focuses of the spring for Illinois has been to become more offensive minded. For Hambly, that means getting more first-ball side-outs and running a faster-paced attack.
One of the major cogs in those plans comes from Michelle Bartsch, who has been working on playing both front and back row. In her first season, which saw Bartsch earned Big Ten and Mideast Freshman of the Year, Bartsch was used primarily on the right side.
"The tempo in both back row attacks are getting much quicker," Bartsch said.
The difficulty, Bartsch said, is getting used to being a back row hitter after serving as a passer on the first contact.
"I haven't really played defense since club," Bartsch said. "It will be a big change, but a good change. Hillary is running the tempo a lot faster and we're becoming more of a `dig-terminate type of team (winning the point on the first attack)."
That really was evident in a four-set victory at Wisconsin on April 11. The Illini hit over .400 in two of the three sets and had at least a 68 percentage side-out efficiency in three of those sets.
Laura DeBruler, who has stepped her game to even higher level, hit .370 with 23 kills while Bartsch followed with 16 kills.
Big Test coming Saturday
A good sized crowd came out to witness the beach event and Illini fans will get one more chance to see the team this spring. Illinois will play the men's club team at 9 a.m. Saturday (April 25) at the Ubben Basketball Practice Facility. The men's club team placed third at the national tournament.
Four Illini headed to Minneapolis
Illinois players will take the next three weeks to devote to the end of the semester and final exams. Following that, four players - Bartsch, DeBruler, middle blocker Johannah Bangert and Ashley Edinger - will travel to Minneapolis for the Open Division of the 2009 USA Adult Championships. Those four will be among 24 playing on two USA Volleyball A2 teams. The team will train May 18-22 before competing in tournament play on May 23-26 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.