Wisconsin torches Texas A&M, captures HotelRed championship

Middle blocker Tionna Williams had a season-high 17 kills, but UW was unable to knock off the Spartans and instead lost its third straight game. 

Image By: Brandon Moe

Another magnificent performance in the middle helped propel the Badgers to victory in the final round of the HotelRed Invitational, as No. 6 Wisconsin (7-0) took down Texas A&M (3-3) by a score of 25-19, 25-23, 25-10, clinching the HotelRed Invitational Saturday night at the Field House.

The combination of middle blockers Tionna Williams and Dana Rettke were dialed in at all times and devastated the Aggies up front. The pair accounted for a whopping 18 of UW’s 30 overall kills and made crucial contributions even when the Badgers looked a step slow.

Aside from igniting Wisconsin’s offense, the success of the middle blockers was evident on the defensive end as well. The Badgers out-blocked the Aggies 11-4 and tallied double-digit blocking totals in consecutive matches, a sign that Kelly Sheffield’s team is pointed in the right direction.

“I thought we did a good job, a better job, defensively than what we’ve done the first two weekends. That was certainly good to see,” Sheffield said. “Our blocking is getting better, you know. And that certainly makes our backcourt a little bit easier when our hands are in the right position.”

“When you can go to the middles and go to the slide as much as we were, then your ball control is doing a pretty good job.”

In a shaky second set, when the tide appeared to be turning in the favor of Texas A&M, Wisconsin looked to its prolific frontcourt to right the ship. After stumbling at the start of the middle frame and falling behind 10-15, Wisconsin scored five unanswered points to tie it. Thanks to a fit of poor execution causing the Aggies to commit a flurry of errors, the Badgers managed to settle down and pull away late in the set. Williams, in spite of UW’s struggle, produced six kills in the set and remained effective, rescuing the Badgers from the jaws of defeat and guiding them to a two-point victory.

Although not as thrilling as the second set, the two teams competed closely for much of the contest’s opening stanza. With the score 7-7, Texas A&M committed three straight attack errors that would give a slight edge to the home team. The Aggies continued to fight, however, and kept within striking distance until UW sparked a 4-0 run and opened up a comfortable lead. After breaking the tie earlier, Rettke came up with another huge kill—this time to end the set and give Wisconsin the early advantage.

While the majority of the contest ended up relatively competitive, the final set of the night was not anything of the sort. The Badgers jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead to start the frame and didn’t look back. Back-to-back kills from newly-returned attacker Lauryn Gillis extended the lead to double digits, and Texas A&M could do nothing to respond. Wisconsin hit a match-high .357 percent in the third as it cruised to the finish line and prevailed 25-10.

After finishing off the Aggies, the Badgers’ Tionna Williams received the Most Valuable Player of the 2017 HotelRed Invitational. Additional accolades went to Dana Rettke and Sydney Hilley, who were both named to the all-tournament team.

Wisconsin’s next opponent will be a familiar one, as the Badgers host the state rival Marquette Golden Eagles (4-3) at the Field House Thursday night. First set will begin at 7 p.m.

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