The Wisconsin volleyball team went into Wednesday night's Big Ten opener against Iowa with confidence, riding a two-game winning streak. However it was the Hawkeyes who left with their heads held high, winning the match in four sets.
The Field House, ranking fifth in the country with an average attendance of 3,528 fans, was packed, the student section was boastfully obnoxious, and the band was roaring.
Hopes were high for the Badgers (5-4). Yet, it didn't take long for the Hawkeyes (8-4), led by junior middle blocker Becky Walters, who recorded an outstanding game-high .478 hitting percentage, and senior libero Christina Meister, to make their presence felt.
The Hawkeyes jumped off to a quick lead in the first set. The Badgers now had to play catch-up, something they did throughout the night after losing the first point in every set.
The lead see-sawed back and forth midway through the first set. After senior outside hitter Brittney Dolgner ran into the media table trying, but failing to keep a play alive, Iowa went up 16-15. The Hawkeyes did not look back, and take the first set, 25-21. This play epitomized the Badgers' night. Whenever the Badgers seemed on the verge of a momentum shift, they fell just short.
The two lone seniors, Dolgner and outside hitter Caity DuPont, seemed to lack their usual energy. Dolgner recorded nine errors and only six kills on her way to a hitting percentage of .107. DuPont had her first match without an ace since September 6.
""Brittney sat out Monday and Tuesday with the flu. She didn't have the same elevation on her jump,"" head coach Pete Waite said. ""She was tentative.""
This tentativeness was evident not only to Waite, the Hawkeyes and the fans, but to the other Badgers as well.
""Everyone always has to be ready,"" junior outside hitter Allison Wack said.
Despite the result, Wack certainly was ready, posting a game-high 17 kills. So were a few other Badgers, as some of the younger players were forced to pick up the slack.
In the second set it was freshman right side hitter Kirby Toon providing the spark, with four kills. In the third set it was freshman middle blocker Alexis Mitchell's turn, driving home 4 kills as well.
""I tried to focus on swinging hard, being aggressive,"" Mitchell said. ""I wanted to go in there and do what I needed for the team.""
Waite was disappointed with the outcome, but did like his team's performance in the second set.
""In the second set things picked up,"" Waite said.
Wisconsin came out rolling after a timeout at 15-15 to win the second set 25-19. At 18-16, junior libero Kim Kuzma wisely let a close ball sail long. After this second set of brief superiority, it was all downhill.
""We were a little inconsistent heading into the third,"" Waite said. There were too many unforced errors.""
The Badgers put up a team total of 32 attack errors to Iowa's 15. The only player who displayed consistency was Kuzma, who had a game-high 18 digs.
It was consistency that led to the eventual Hawkeyes' victory. Iowa went on to win the third and fourth set 25-22 and 25-18, respectively. Although the Badgers totaled 11 more kills than the Hawkeyes' 48, Wisconsin also had a .170 hitting percentage to the Hawkeyes' .275.