This Friday at 1 pm, the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA volleyball tournament. They two teams have met twice already this year, an the Badgers have swept the Buckeyes both times. However, this is December Madness, and anything can happen. The Buckeyes are a very good team and should not be written off because they are not ranked in the bracket.
For Wisconsin to eliminate Ohio State from the tournament and move on themselves, they need to focus on tough serving, their defense, and strong playing from their outside hitters. Most importantly, the Badgers will need to find a way to shut down Ohio State senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe. If Wisconsin can accomplish all of these things, they should be about to maneuver around the unanimous All-Big Ten team member and her supporting cast.
Sandbothe is known for being the best blocker in Ohio State volleyball history, but she can also do damage on offense. She is hitting at a respectable .321 clip and averages almost four kills per set. To slow her down, Wisconsin will need to serve tough without making too many service errors, something they have struggled with at times. By serving tough, hopefully the Buckeyes will be kept out of system, and their setters will have a difficult time forcing her in the ball in the middle of the court. This will allow Wisconsin’s block to focus on other players in hopes of slowing down their offense. If the Buckeyes are not passing the ball well, it will certainly make the Badgers road to the Elite 8 much easier.
In the past few weeks, Wisconsin’s backcourt has really stepped up and has started to play championship-level defense. Lead by junior libero Kelli Bates, the defense will need to keep Wisconsin in system so setter Lauren Carlini can do what she does best: run a quick tempo offense. There’s no doubt that Ohio State will also trying to be serving tough in hopes they can stop Carlini from working her magic. Should the back row pass well off of serve receive, Carlini will have the chance to give all of her hitters a chance to succeed. In addition to making plays off of serve receive, they also will need to come up with big plays to keep rallies going. All the Ohio State hitters have the ability to get kills, and Wisconsin will need to be scrappy. Huge defensive plays can build a teams confidence and change the momentum of the game.
Freshman outside hitter Molly Haggerty and junior outside Lauryn Gillis will each need to play good games. Should the Badgers be out of system, they will need to find ways to get points. Hopefully, they will be able to find whole in the block and hit smart shots off of the blockers hands. Both players have proved to me more than capable at doing this, so if they continue to play at the high level they are currently playing at, they should not have a problem terminating plays.
The Sweet Sixteen match this Friday in the Field House is going to be a battle, but if Wisconsin can rely on their training and continue to execute, they should be able to survive and advance to the Elite 8.