Oct. 4, 2009

Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Senior Kylie McCulley matched a career-high with 22 kills to lead the resilient 12th-ranked Illini over the sixth-ranked Wolverines in a thrilling five-set marathon. Illinois found themselves in an early 2-0 hole, but battled back to take the final three sets and beat a top-10 opponent for the first time since 2004. The Illini defense saw four players record double-digit digs and stepped up when it counted to out-block Michigan 15-3, including a clutch denial on the final play to take the match 21-25, 22-25, 25-20, 25-21, 15-11.

"We fought hard, and that's what this team's about," head coach Kevin Hambly said. "We've been through this before and know the Big Ten is always a battle. We are a defensive-minded team, and it was genuinely a team effort tonight. I was really proud with the way we scrapped and played defense all night."

McCulley came through in the clutch, hitting .556 with five key kills in the final set to send the Illini home with a weekend split after suffering a five-set heartbreaking loss to the No. 23 Spartans on Friday night. The Clinton, Ill., native hit .333 on the night, posted her third double-double (22 kills, 11 digs) and served perfectly with three aces and no errors.

"Kylie made plays and executed at a level we've never seen before," Hambly said. "It was obvious that she wanted to win that match and just took over."

Junior setter Hillary Haen got off to a slow start, but turned it on when the Illini had their backs against the wall after dropping the first two sets. The team captain never gave up, recording 30 assists and 11 digs over the final three sets to finish with 50 assists and tie a career-high with 17 digs.

"We did as Hillary did tonight," Hambly said. "She struggled in the first two sets, but she turned it around and then showed great leadership for the rest of the match."

Coming out of the break, Illinois showed it wouldn't go down without a fight and turned it on for the final three sets. The Illini only trailed for two points over the final three frames, and they led for all of sets three and five.

The Orange and Blue carried the momentum of victories in sets three and four into the fifth set, as they jumped out to an 8-2 lead. The Wolverines clawed back to within one at 12-11, but two straight kills from McCulley and a double-block by junior Johannah Bangert and sophomore Michelle Bartsch sealed the comeback win.

The `Killer B's' each finished with 10 total blocks and held Michigan's Juliana Paz to only four kills over the final three sets after she came out firing with 17 kills through the first two stanzas.

One night after breaking the school record for 20-kill matches, junior All-American Laura DeBruler shined on the defensive end against the hard-hitting Wolverines, as she tallied a career-high 23 digs to go along with 13 kills.

"Laura DeBruler's defense was absolutely phenomenal," Hambly said. "She was flying all over the place and making plays."

The Illini out-hit the Wolverines .234 to .163, including a big advantage of .360 to .118 in the pivotal final set in which Illinois tallied zero errors. Senior Ashley Edinger notched 18 digs for the second straight night, helping the Orange and Blue garner an 83-79 advantage in digs.

With the victory, Illinois improved to 10-3 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten, while Michigan (15-2, 3-1) fell for only the second time all season.

Illinois returns to Champaign for a pair of Big Ten matches next weekend, as the Illini welcome Purdue to Huff Hall on Friday, Oct. 9 before facing Indiana on Saturday night. Both matches begin at 7 p.m. CT.