Michelle Bartsch played on a USA Volleyball Team for the second straight summer.
July 9, 2009
by Lauren Benson, Illinois Sports Information
From May 23-26, four Illini volleyball players competed for the USA Volleyball A2 team at the USA Open Championships in Minneapolis, Minn. Michelle Bartsch, Johannah Bangert, Laura DeBruler and Ashley Edinger were four of the 24 players named to the team after a series of rigorous tryouts were held in February in Colorado Springs, Colo.
There were 160 of the top volleyball players in the country trying out, and Illinois was the only school to have more than two players selected to the team.
The four Illini players were split among two teams- Bartsch and Edinger on the Red Team and DeBruler and Bangert on the Blue Team. The Red Team ended up with a silver medal, and the Blue Team came in third place and received a bronze medal. The medals did not seem to matter to the Illini competitors, though, as most of their memories from the trip consisted of the experience they gained, improvements in their game, and bonding with their teammates.
One of the best parts of participating in the Championships for Bangert, a middle blocker, was the chance to play competitively at a time when that usually doesn't happen.
"I think there is something to learn from every experience," Bangert said. "I learned some different things volleyball-wise, and it was good that I had more experience playing because in the spring we don't get to play much. It helped me a lot to put the things I worked on here all spring into actual competition."
The other three players agreed that playing time was one of the most beneficial parts of the championships. They felt that the playing time they earned would help improve their game in the upcoming season.
"Without doing it, I think I would have been really rusty," Bartsch said. "But I have been able to play and keep playing since the season was over. It's really helped me being able to play and stay in shape."
Because the USA Open Championships were fairly short, the girls had little time to get used to the different styles of volleyball their teammates brought. But Edinger felt the experience helped improve her game because she was playing with the top volleyball players in the country.
"It was really interesting playing against people from different schools," Edinger said. "They had different styles of play, and I think we learned a lot from each other. All of us come from different backgrounds of playing. I think each of us brought out our strengths in our systems and brought it together. We played really well."
According to USA Volleyball A2 Championship rules, all four of the Illini players could not be on the same team. Seeing your teammates on the opposite side of the net may be a strange situation for some, but the four Illini players insisted they actually enjoyed playing against their fellow teammates.
"It was really fun," DeBruler said. "I remember one moment when I blocked Bartsch and after it I was so excited. It was fun, but at the end of the day we are still teammates."
Bangert added, "It was fun just because we can get a little feisty with each other and smack talk a little, so that's always fun. So it's always cool to play with people you know because you can always push them around a little."
When they were not playing volleyball, the girls got to engage in other activities during their time in Minneapolis. Whether it was eating, site-seeing or simply bonding with their teammates, the Fighting Illini players remembered more than just volleyball from the trip.
"Probably the food was the best memory I had," Bangert said. "This couple that cooks for University of Minnesota athletes cooked meals for us. One night they had a barbeque right down at the riverfront. They were always so nice and helped us with anything. And it was really good food."
"There were four of us that were down there together," said Edinger. "Sometimes I don't get to have a lot of individual time with the girls and I really felt like I got to hang out with them individually and get to know them a little better. So that's going to help us next year I think, because we have some little jokes between each other and we got to play with each other more. I think helping us out the most here was that I just got to know each of them a little better."
After earning a trip to the Sweet Sixteen last season, the Orange and Blue look to excel beyond that position this season. The Illini have six returning starters and are in prime contention to be a front-runner in Big Ten Conference play. The main foe that all the Illini would love to beat is back-to-back NCAA champion Penn State.
"We are really going to try to excel from what we did last year," DeBruler said. "One of my main goals is to contend for a Big Ten title."