After losing a close five-set match with the Minnesota Gophers Wednesday in Madison, No. 15 Wisconsin (4-3 Big Ten, 12-5 overall) will be looking to earn a victory this upcoming Saturday to earn a split with its rival, No. 11 Minnesota (6-1, 14-3).
Wisconsin has been put to the test so far this season, going 4-3 in Big Ten play. It pulled out a big road win against No. 16 Illinois but fell at home to No. 5 Penn St. and No. 22 Western Kentucky, among others.
Their most recent loss to Minnesota ends a two-game home win streak against the Gophers.
Minnesota has had a strong season so far defeating Wisconsin, Illinois and No. 7 Ohio St. but losing to perennial conference power Penn St.
The first game of the back-to-back matchup didn’t disappoint in intensity.
“I thought that was a hell of a college volleyball match right there,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “Two teams totally dominating a set each and then two other sets where two points could've gone either way.”
The first game was just as close as the five-set score indicates, with three sets being decided by four points or less. Each team’s defense was able to effectively limit the others offense with the Gophers and the Badgers hitting .147 and .155 percent as a team, respectively.
UW came out fast, cruising to an early first-set victory 25-11. Wisconsin dominated the Gophers in the set, securing 16 kills and hitting a team percentage of .361. One of the biggest differences between the Badgers first set performance and the rest of their sets was the lack of errors. UW recorded only three errors in the first set but averaged over seven in the next four.
The Gophers came back strong in the next two sets, winning a close second set (26-24) and a dominate third set (25-16). Minnesota picked up its offensive production in the two sets, recording 15 and 11 kills respectively and only recording nine errors to Wisconsin’s 19 over the two-set period.
In the fourth set the Badgers showed their resolve, coming back to even up the game. The two teams went back and forth in the set with neither team able to find an edge.
With Wisconsin down 24-22 in the set, junior middle blocker Haleigh Nelson recorded back-to-back kills to tie up the set before two Minnesota errors sealed Wisconsin’s set victory.
“I think we know that in those types of situations, we can execute and we can take care of the ball and win those types of games when they’re that close,” junior setter Lauren Carlini said.
In the fifth set Wisconsin failed to close out the Gophers, with Minnesota playing mistake-free volleyball. The Badgers were able to close in within two, at 13-11 following a kill by Carlini, but were not able to complete the set comeback to earn the victory.
The Gophers and Badgers matchup will kickoff at the Sports Pavillion at 8 p.m. Saturday.