Dec. 4, 2009

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Illinois got 15 kills and three blocks from sophomore right side hitter Michelle Bartsch and 11 kills and 10 digs from junior outside hitter Laura DeBruler to defeat IPFW 25-16, 25-15, 25-12 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night at Huff. The Illini advance to meet Dayton, a five-set winner over UW-Milwaukee, in the second round tomorrow.

In the tournament, the most important thing is to advance, obviously," said Illinois head coach Kevin Hambly. "We're happy we did that. I thought we played a little nervous at first, but then played really good ball. There were a couple of times things got a little bit shaky, but I really liked the way we were playing when we were playing well."

Bartsch set the tone early with two emphatic kills on backsets from setter Hillary Haen to go ahead 2-0. The Maryville, Ill., native hit .500 with eight kills in the first set as Illinois came back to take it 25-16.

"They blocked in the middle of the court with only one blocker, so we wanted to give Michelle a chance to be one-on-one with only one blocker," Haen said of Bartsch. "She's an amazing hitter and just a huge weapon for us, and we wanted to send a message right from the beginning."

IPFW fought back, going on an 8-2 run, which included a pair of kills from Taryn Parker, to take a 10-9 lead and force Illinois to take a time-out.

"I thought they served very aggressively," Hambly said. "They got us out of system, and it took us a while to get back and adjust. They kept scrapping when you thought they were going to let down. They were a very scrappy team."

Illinois outscored the Mastodons 66-33 the rest of the way, which included an immediate 8-1 run and back-to-back aces from Haen. The junior missed last Wednesday's match due to illness and was still not 100 percent in the season finsale at Minnesota on Saturday. Against IPFW, though Haen had 35 assists, directed an offensive attack that hit .333, and tallied nine digs and five assists. Those five assists are not only a career high for Haen, but also are tied for third by an Illini in an NCAA Tournament match.

Hambly noticed a difference in the Illini attack with a fully healthy Haen tonight.

"I think we picked up where we were two weeks ago," Hambly said. "Our offense was really smooth, which was good. I thought Hillary did a nice job."

"It feels great to be out here playing with all my strength," Haen said. "It's nice to go out on the court and branch out now that I'm healthy."

Illinois forced IPFW to just a .034 hitting percentage while siding out at 62 percent in the second set. That's when DeBruler started to take over with five kills and a .400 hitting percentage. The Illini used a 10-1 run to go up 16-7 and never looked back. Senior Kylie McCulley had nine kills on the night, including two in that rally.

The offense was clicking on all cylinders in the set three, hitting .480 with just one attack error. Bartsch finished where she left off with five kills and a .500 attack percentage in the set. The Illini also used a familiar weapon this season - the block. Junior Johannah Bangert, the nation's blocks leader was in on all four blocks in the set - two with DeBruler and two with Bartsch.

The Illini won the serve-pass game, tallying nines aces, including two from Rachel Feldman, who also led the team with 12 digs. Illinois, meanwhile, was only aced once.

Illinois must face a Dayton team that won its 30th match of the year on Thursday night against just three defeats.

"They're going to be a major challenge for us," Hambly said of the Flyers. "They're much bigger than we are. They're long and tall. They run a 6-2 and take advantage of their height."

The winner of the Friday's Dayton-Illinois match advances to the Stanford Regional next weekend.