The Badger women’s volleyball team (8-1 overall) kicked off their 2012 season at home this weekend with wins in nine straight sets en route to the Inn Towner Invitational title at the UW Fieldhouse. After sweeping Drake on Friday and overcoming an early first set deficit Saturday against North Dakota State, Wisconsin took the momentum early in the championship game against Milwaukee, and held on to win 25-15, 26-24, 25-23.
“It’s huge.” Wisconsin senior Bailey Reshel said of starting the season off with a championship in their home tournament. “It’s important to win here. We’ve decided we don’t ever want to lose here, period.”
The score stood at 10-10 in a closely fought first set on Saturday night when the Badgers went on an 8-0 tear behind the serving of sophomore defensive specialist Caroline Workman. From there, Wisconsin was able to eventually gain a ten-point cushion and end the set with an ace by junior libero Annemarie Hickey.
Neither team was able to gain a lead of more than five points at any time throughout the second set, leading to a closely fought 26-24 win for the Badgers. Wisconsin junior right side hitter
Julie Mikaelsen had six kills in the set, leading up to a three point run after the Panthers served for set point at 24-23.
“This was one of the best weekends of Julie's career,” coach Pete Waite said of the tournament MVP.
An equally close third set saw Wisconsin down 17-20, though a 4-1 run allowed them to tie the score at twenty-one. After two lead changes the score stood at 23-23. A kill by senior middle blocker Alexis Mitchell and a Badgers block cemented the win. The Inn Towner Invitational title is the 16th in Wisconsin history, and the first since 2010.
“There were a lot of scrappy plays. It wasn't always pretty, but we had to make sure that we took our first one home." Reshel said.
With one more weekend of pre-conference play to go, the Badgers are looking to improve with every game and put themselves in the best position to be in the drivers seat come their conference opener against Northwestern on the 21st.
“[We need to] keep getting stronger in blocking. We need to be closing the block and getting our hands across the net,” Waite said of the improvements his team needs to make. “Offensively, we hope to put a few new wrinkles in the offense, maybe a few new plays in there for different people to mix it up a little.
One advantage the Badgers seem to have this year is experience. With only two freshmen on the roster – and none in the starting lineup – the core group of players have all played together and are familiar with the rigors of Big Ten competition.
Bailey Reshel is aware of this advantage as well. “It's nice to not have to worry about incorporating new people so we can just pick up right from where we left off. We all know what page we need to be on and what we need to do to get where we want."
The Badgers continue pre-conference play next Friday at Georgia Southern University against Savannah State, with first serve at 9:00 am.