Laura DeBruler led the Big Ten and all of the nation's freshmen in kills per game.
Dec. 19, 2007
Illinois posted its 21st winning season in the last 23 years in 2007. The Illini defeated a ranked team for the seventh straight season and took eventual national champion Penn State to five games, all the while breaking in a new, yet talented freshman class.
Still the 2007 season will be remembered for how close the Illini came to being a top three team again in the Big Ten and getting a chance to return to the NCAA Tournament. Illinois finished the season 16-14 with nine of the those losses coming in five games and another in four to No. 9 Wisconsin after the Illini took the opening game 41-39, a record for the longest single game in school history.
The madness began on the first weekend when upstart Dayton fought off two game points in the championship match of the Dayton Flyer Classic and defeated the Illini in five games. The Flyers were the last undefeated team in Division I and lost just once in the regular season.
Along the way Illinois suffered five-game defeats to three more ranked teams, including a five-gamer Oct. 19 to then No. 2 Penn State. The Illini rallied from two games down behind 27 kills from freshman Laura DeBruler.
DeBruler's performance headlined a strong start from the nation's sixth-ranked recruiting class.
DeBruler led all freshmen nationally (22nd overall) in kills per game at 4.89 while also pacing the Big Ten in points per game. She had a stretch of seven straight 20-plus kill matches in mid-season.
No player, not event national player of the year Mary Eggers, had even double figures in kills in an Illinois debut. DeBruler, however, exploded for 28 in a four-game win over Bowling Green in the season opener. She was named Big Ten Player of the Week twice and had 15 20-kill matches on the year, over halfway to the school record for such matches in a career.
Illinois got contributions from all six freshmen. Johannah Bangert started from the onset of the season and led the Illini in hitting percentage (.358). Nicole Kump transitioned well to the right side and had ten kills against both Iowa and Penn State.
Hillary Haen, the most highly regarded of the group coming in, showed her talents. Haen shared the duties with junior Lizzie Bazzetta and posted a season-best 58 assists as Illinois defeated NCAA-bound Michigan State for the second time on the season.
Defensive specialist Leah Zarytsky started the last half of the Big Ten season after Kristine Anderson suffered season-ending ACL injury for the second straight season. Middle blocker Abby Nelson saw limited action, but had seven kills against Iowa as a last minute replacement for Vicki Brown, who sat out with a hand injury.
Speaking of Brown, the senior was spectacular at times, hitting .321 for the season and eclipsing the 1,000-kill mark for her career. The other two seniors played significant roles after transferring in last season. Stefanie Alde hit .457 with 20 kills against Penn State. Amy Palash was especially potent early in the season, which included 13 kills in the first win over Michigan State in East Lansing.
Sophomore Ashley Edinger set the single-season digs mark with 564 and with 1,052 is on pace to break the career mark in just three seasons. She has had five of the top ten single-game marks in school history, including 37, one off the record, vs. Northwestern.
Illinois swept a Big Ten weekend on the road for the first time since 2003, then proceeded to do it two more times for a six-game road streak.
The roller coaster season ended on a high as head coach Don Hardin won his 400th match in a three-game win over Iowa. Earlier in the year, Hardin won his 200th at Illinois. His record now stands 208-155 at Illinois and 400-231 overall.