No. 4-seeded Wisconsin (29-2 overall) started off its NCAA tournament run Thursday by sweeping Western Michigan (22-14) at the UW Field House. The Badgers won the first and final sets easily, at 25-9 and 25-10, while Western Michigan made life difficult for the Badgers in the second pushing them to a highly contested 26-24 set win.
The victory extended the Badgers’ winning streak to 20 and put them into the second round of the NCAAs where they will face Illinois State at the Field House Friday.
The Badgers set the tone early in the first set storming out to a 8-0 run. Western Michigan attempted to make a run of their own but before the Broncos could bring themselves back into contention, the Badgers were up 22-8. The Badgers continued to spread the ball around on the set and kills by senior outside hitters Courtney Thomas and Ellen Chapman set the Badgers up for set point. Western Michigan hit the ball out of bounds and Wisconsin took the first set 25-9.
The Badger defense held Western Michigan to a .000 attacking percentage in the first set and were led on offense by Thomas, who had five kills. A lot of Badgers got involved in the offense in the first set, with a lot of credit going to Big Ten Player of the Year Lauren Carlini.
“I thought we came out and Lauren got us going pretty early,” said Badger head coach Kelly Sheffield. “I thought, moving the ball around serving, and hitting her zones and putting a lot of pressure on them.”
The second set was a complete reverse however, as Western Michigan seemed to stump the Badgers a little bit once they switched up their game plan.
“I thought we made adjustments between two and three,” Sheffield said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make those adjustments on the fly in game two, we’re going to have to do a better job of that, but credit Western Michigan.”
Wisconsin started off the second set in the lead but eventually were looking up at Western Michigan, as they held a 10-8 lead early in the set. Western Michigan continued to hold onto their lead until a 5-2 burst by Wisconsin tied the game at 20.
The Badgers put themselves in a position to take the second set with set point at 24-23 but the Broncos tied the game up and forced the Badgers to keep on fighting. On the next play, a momentum changing kill by senior middle blocker Dominique Thompson set the Badgers up with set point at 25-24. Western Michigan made a hitting error on the next play to secure the Badgers’ second set victory.
The third set was eerily similar to the first, as the Badgers jumped on Western Michigan immediately and never let them back in the set. Wisconsin took an early 9-4 lead, which they eventually extended to 20-7.
The Badgers’ dominant defensive performance continued, as two more blocks extended their lead to 22-7. The Broncos scored only three more points and the Badgers went on to win the third and decisive set 25-10.
The Badgers’ dominance was evident by the numbers as Western Michigan had a .053 attacking percentage and the Badgers out-blocked, out-assisted and out-killed Western Michigan by five, 15 and 18 respectively.
Carlini led both the offensive and defensive attack for Wisconsin. It seemed like every time Western Michigan was able to break through the Badgers’ blockers Carlini was there to cover, as evident by her game-high 20 digs, which translated into a great offensive flow for the team.
“I think with me digging and Courtney being able to set every ball and us stay in system, it’s just a huge advantage to us, and it absolutely helps the offensive numbers and I was just trying to keep balls in play and stay in system,” Carlini said.
Next up for the Badgers is Illinois State Friday at 7 p.m. in the Field House. If the Badgers are able to defeat the Redbirds, they will move on to the NCAA regionals in Louisville, Kentucky.