MADISON, Wis. — After two weekends on the road, the No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers returned home and swept No. 17 Ohio State and Maryland 3-0 during the first weekend of Big Ten play.
In the first match on Friday night, Wisconsin faced Ohio State. Wisconsin took the lead quickly in the first set. The Badgers were very aggressive towards the ball. There were many long rallies. Wisconsin kept its composure throughout these long rallies, and ultimately won those points. Wisconsin had very few errors, kept the ball moving, and didn’t let its few bad passes affect the game. Wisconsin’s defense contributed four blocks to help the team win the first set 26-16.
Ohio State challenged Wisconsin’s domination of the first set in the beginning of the second. Both teams were playing at equal levels in the first half of the set. However, when Wisconsin committed an error, the team moved on to the next point. Ohio State seemed to unravel when things went awry. Wisconsin’s defense forced 11 errors for the Buckeyes in the set. Wisconsin won the set 25-19 after a service error from Ohio State’s Taylor Hughes.
Wisconsin was fired up for the third set. They came out after the break and took a 5-0 lead from the start. Wisconsin’s Kelli Bates had two service aces in a row, and Ohio State couldn’t defend Wisconsin’s aggressive offense. There were many net violations on both sides of the net. Wisconsin unraveled a bit after misjudging whether the ball was inbounds. However, Wisconsin took a strong lead and won the set 25-17. The Badgers swept the match 3-0.
Ohio State lacked the confidence on the court that Wisconsin exhibited. Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said the Wisconsin defense was what won the game for the Badgers. The Badgers’ defense had 15 blocks on the match, opposed to the Buckeyes’ 2 blocks. “You really have to have your eyes on them because this is a team that changes a lot. I thought we did a really good job defensively,” Sheffield said. Kelli Bates lead the Badgers with seven blocks on the night.
Wisconsin faced Maryland on Saturday night. From the start, Wisconsin dominated the match. Wisconsin took the lead 7-1 in the first set. Maryland couldn’t set up a play on offense. Wisconsin’s Lauren Carlini had four service aces in a row before Maryland was forced to call a timeout. Maryland had too many wild passes and errors controlling their offense, and Wisconsin capitalized on Maryland’s mistakes. Wisconsin won the first set 25-12.
The second set followed the first. Maryland could not get a good first pass to set up a play. Wisconsin made more mistakes in the start of the second set, but bounced back after every mistake. Wisconsin committed 10 errors in the set, but Maryland was unable to capitalize. Maryland found its groove at the 20-15 mark of the set, however Wisconsin maintained its lead the rest of the way and won 25-18. The difference in the second set was Wisconsin’s ability to move on after lost points or errors made.
Wisconsin started slow in the third set. The Badger fans’ enthusiasm helped get the Badgers more fired up on the court. This set was much more even, though Wisconsin was still clearly dominating the court. Wisconsin’s lead was tight by only 2 or 3 points throughout, yet Molly Haggerty’s perfectly-targeted kills helped give the Badgers the momentum it needed to maintain its lead. The Badgers’ defense gave Wisconsin a 22-18 lead after a block from Romana Kriskova and Haleigh Nelson. The Badgers won the set 25-21 thanks to a block from Lauren Carlini and Tionna Williams.
The Badgers dominated Maryland and swept the Terrapins 3-0. Wisconsin continued playing with the confidence it has exhibited all season. Even when the Badgers’ lead was challenged, Wisconsin relied on its confidence and home field advantage to pull through. “The fanbase is awesome, it was half-full by the time we got out there,” Lauren Carlini said. “Having that support, having everyone here and being back in the Field House, it’s a great feeling.”
“It was so loud that I almost couldn’t hear anything because everyone was screaming and running around and it was so crazy,” Kelli Bates said. “But those kind of momentum shifts make it so much easier for us in terms of keeping the momentum going and keeping everything in line and intact. The Field House makes a huge difference.”
Wisconsin is continuing to prove that it is a national powerhouse by sweeping the weekend, and the first of its Big Ten competition, 6-0. The team is playing its best volleyball. This confidence-booster for the team will be huge as the Badgers travel to No. 14 Purdue, Indiana, and Rutgers in the next week and a half.
Photo courtesy of UW Athletics.