MADISON — The No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers battled through a five-set match to beat Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
Wisconsin raced to a 6-1 lead, forcing an Ohio State timeout. Wisconsin’s hitters forced another Ohio State timeout when the Badgers led 13-6. Things seemed to be unraveling for the Badgers, and Coach Kelly Sheffield called a timeout. Wisconsin came out after the timeout with fire, winning the set. Wisconsin won 25-15.
Wisconsin’s offense had 12 kills at .250 percent. The defense had 16 digs and four blocks.
Ohio State took the lead early in the second set. Ohio State led 13-8 when Wisconsin called a timeout. Ohio State’s offense had great spacing and forced the ball to the no-man’s-land. Wisconsin kept the game close, though the Buckeyes’ defense posed a great threat. Ohio State won the set 25-22 on an error.
Ohio State hit 15 kills at .233 percent, compared to Wisconsin’s 14 kills at .178 percent. Ohio State had two blocks, while the Badgers had none.
Wisconsin took a 7-4 lead in the third set, but Ohio State tied the score at 7-all. UW Head Coach Kelly Sheffield raised his hands to get the Badger fans loud, and the Fieldhouse erupted. Ohio State led by four before Wisconsin went on a run to bring the score to 14-13, forcing a Buckeye timeout. Wisconsin tied the score on the next play. The two teams battled it out the rest of the way. Ohio State won the set 31-29.
There were 15 tie scores in the third set. Wisconsin seemed to lose some of its confidence that had been so prevalent in many of its earlier matches against the Buckeyes.
Ohio State took a 10-6 lead in the fourth set with the Badgers not being able to get any plays going on both sides of the net, forcing Wisconsin to call a timeout. Wisconsin was losing 19-14, but out-scored the Buckeyes 11-3 in the end to win the set 25-22. Both teams had four blocks, and the teams’ defenses held their opponents to under .200 percent hitting.
The Badgers didn’t lose hope in each other when things got tough.
“When those big moments come down to it at the end of the wire, at the end of games, that’s when we are the strongest, when we’re together,” senior Lauren Carlini said. “When we’re connecting, looking in each other’s eyes and knowing that we have each other’s back, that chemistry is what pulled us through that game.”
Both teams battled out the fifth set. Wisconsin took a 6-3 lead when Ohio State called a timeout. Ohio State tied the score at 7-all and both teams played with a sense of urgency. Wisconsin took the lead 10-7 and Ohio State called another timeout. Wisconsin won the set 15-13 after a kill from Haleigh Nelson.
Senior captain Haleigh Nelson spoke to the team in the huddle at a timeout when things looked bleak for the Badgers.
“The road wasn’t gonna end for us tonight, there,” senior Haleigh Nelson said. “This wasn’t going to be the last match I played with these people that I love so much. I just wanted them to know that we were gonna take the momentum back and we were gonna win that match. Whether it was going to take us diving into the stands, whatever it was going to take I knew we were gonna come back. I wanted my teammates to know that I believed in each and every one of them.”
Wisconsin advances to the Elite 8 with the win over Ohio State. The Badgers will play the winner of the Florida State/Stanford match on Saturday evening.
“You don’t take anything for granted,” UW Coach Kelly Sheffield said. “It’s not who’s supposed to win or who’s favored or what the higher seed is. You get to this level, and this point in the tournament and every team is so legit. They are really good.”