Wisconsin falls yet again to Gophers in grueling five-set match

Kelli Bates and the Badgers advanced to the Sweet Sixteen after two postseason road sweeps.

Image By: Brandon Moe

Nothing quite beats the atmosphere of a gym that is hosting two rival teams. The energy is multiplied, the fans are buzzing and the hairs on the back of everyone’s necks are standing tall. The desire to dominate is quadrupled just by hearing the enemy’s name.

As for all Wisconsin sports, the four-syllable, nine-letter word that describes its neighbors to the northwest gives all these reactions an intensified response. The word I’m talking about is Minnesota.

The No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers (2-3 Big Ten, 11-3 overall) were no exception to this feeling towards the over-the-border competitors, the No. 6 Minnesota Gophers (3-2 Big Ten, 14-2 overall) Wednesday night. UW had been waiting to defeat the Gophers for two years, but the third time was not the charm for the Badgers. Both teams fought until the last second, but the Gophers came out victorious, winning the match, three sets to two, 23-25, 25-20, 21-25, 25-15, 15-13.

The opening set began with the Badgers scoring first on a kill by freshman middle blocker Dana Rettke who lead the team in kills with 19 kills as well as five blocks and a hitting percent of .457. And after six lead changes and 12 ties, Wisconsin emerged victorious.

The Gophers responded to the first set defeat by winning the second. With an early four-point run setting the tone, the Gophers never gave up the lead and maintained a cushion of at least three points. The back-and-forth nature of the match stood true in the third set with the Badgers, this time, answering back, leading for the entirety of the set.

But during the fourth set, the Badgers had started to face some problems. Minnesota kept shutting down every opportunity Wisconsin had to muster a kill. A majority of the Badgers’ attempts to find pockets on the court were squandered by the Gophers’ defense as all the while Wisconsin struggled defensively to stop Minnesota.

“We had some issues in the fourth set. They were going right through our blocks, we weren’t doing a great job of getting squared up and our hands over us,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “There were six balls that just kind of trickled right between our hands and you know you’re over just a little bit more, you get squared a little bit . . . that’s a twelve-point swing right there. That’s a big difference.”

The final set ended with the Gophers winning the match and making the Badgers all the more hungry for revenge later in the season.

“I am definitely putting that one on myself,” senior Kelli Bates said. “As a senior I am supposed to be guiding the young guys through a fifth set. I need to be bringing more.”

But Bates’ teammates were more forgiving.

“This set was not on Bates, not at all,” freshman setter Sydney Hilley said. “I have so much trust in her. If I could replay that last point I would do the same exact thing. I would still put the ball in Bates’ hands because I know that at the end of the season when I give that to her, we’re winning.”

With still over half of the season to go, the Badgers will continue to focus on improving every game.

“We’re probably the youngest team in the conference,” Sheffield said. “We’ve got the most opportunity of growing. So, let’s keep learning like what we’ve done. And keep getting better.”

The Badgers next play again on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 3 p.m. in East Lansing, Michigan against. No. 14 Michigan State. They hope to get revenge for the Spartans’ five-set victory in Madison a few weeks ago.

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