Laura DeBruler is closing in on Illinois' all-time kills record, needing just 94 to set a new mark.
Dec. 23, 2009
The 2009 season saw continued success for Illinois volleyball. With a 26-6 final record, only four teams in school history posted a better winning percentage. The Illini finished in sole possession of second place in the Big Ten, posting a 16-4 conference mark, and reached the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row and 11th time overall.
Not only that, Illinois, emerged as a top-five team in the country, earning that seed overall in the NCAA Tournament while spending eight straight weeks in the top 10 in the AVCA coaches' poll. Illinois finished the year at No. 10.
Illinois enjoyed that success in a conference ranked No. 2 in the RPI and which advanced three teams to the Elite Eight and two to the Final Four. In fact of the Illini's six losses, four came to eventual Final Four teams and another to an Elite Eight team. The Illini posted five victories over ranked opponents and twice defeated the No. 6 ranked team in the country, a five-set thriller at Michigan and a three-set sweep of Minnesota, a Final Four team, at Assembly Hall.
That Assembly Hall victory came in front of a school-record 7,632 fans in a promotion called "Spike the Record" which preceded Illini Basketball Madness. In that match, Illinois got 15 kills from All-American Laura DeBruler, 14 from Kylie McCulley and 13 from Michelle Bartsch.
DeBruler won a host of honors - two Big Ten Player of the Week accolades, two tournament MVPs, First Team All-Big Ten, First-Team All Region, and finally becoming just the fourth First Team All-American in school history. DeBruler ranked second in the Big Ten and 15th in the nation in kills (4.46) and second in the league and 14th nationally in points (4.96). She tallied her 34th career match with at least 20 kills in an NCAA second round victory over Dayton. Her 1,668 kills rank fifth on Illinois' career list.
Illinois again had success through the block. The Illini out-blocked opponents 301.5-201, including a 207-123 margin in Big Ten matches. Illinois had 18.5 blocks in the four-set victory over Dayton in the second round sending the Illini to the Sweet 16. Junior Johannah Bangert led the nation in blocks for the second straight year at 1.58 per set. Her 179 total blocks are third-best in school history while her 492 career blocks are fifth best. Sophomore Michelle Bartsch (128) and freshman middle blocker Erin Johnson (104) also surpassed 100 blocks on the season as the Illini ranked 18th nationally.
Illinois had three All-Big Ten performers for the first time since 1989 with DeBruler, Bangert and junior setter Hillary Haen, who ranked 16th nationally in assists, earning that distinction. Bartsch was honorable mention All-Big Ten while Johnson was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
Illinois went 14-1 at home, won the Bluejay Invitational to start the year, and claimed its 19th State Farm Illini Classic. In the middle of the season, the Illini rattled off 11 straight victories, which included wins over No. 6 Minnesota and No. 15 Michigan.
During that run, the team lost senior libero Ashley Edinger for the season. Edinger finishes her career with 1,921 digs, the most by an Illini by nearly 500, and ninth-most in Big Ten history. Sophomore Rachel Feldman took over for Edinger and had 19 digs while successfully returning all 41 serves sent her way in her debut vs. Michigan. Feldman had 26 digs vs. Dayton, the most by an Illini ever in an NCAA match.
Illinois also accomplished in the classroom with eight players earning Academic All-Big Ten and three honored as Academic All-District -- Bangert, Haen and DeBruler.
Illinois says good-bye to two accomplished seniors, Edinger and Kylie McCulley, who finished her career with 1,051 kills. The Illini returned the bulk of their roster and added a top-notch recruiting class that includes 6-6 middle blocker Anna Dorn, the No. 6 rated player in the class, No. 33 outside hitter Jasmine Orozco and No. 60 libero Jennifer Bonilla.