No. 10 Wisconsin (12-4 Big Ten, 20-6 overall) will be looking to extend its win streak to nine games Wednesday when it hits the road to face No. 18 Illinois (9-7, 18-9).
Last time the Badgers were on the court, they swept the Iowa Hawkeyes at home.
“I think we had pretty good week, individually, with some players,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said at a Monday press conference. “I thought [sophomore outside hitter] Kelli Bates had a monster week and I think her hard work is start to go pay off and show a little bit in her all-around game.”
This all-around game improvement Sheffield is referring to manifested itself in Bates leading the team with 13 kills last Saturday while racking up a .500 hitting percentage.
Wisconsin’s first matchup with Illinois went well for the Badgers, as they won the match 3-1. Wisconsin managed to record 56 kills with a .268 attack percentage.
The Badgers also managed to out-block and out-dig the Fighting Illini 12-10 and 59-56, respectively.
Wisconsin is well aware, however, of how different its team is since that match and is cognizant of its recent losses to No. 3 Minnesota.
“I think our ball control is better now than what it was at that point,” Sheffield said. “I think our outsides are certainly playing much better… defensively we’re getting a little bit stingier as well.”
Before Wisconsin’s current eight-game win streak began, it was feeling the toughness of the Big Ten.
They opened conference play with back-to-back losses to No. 4 Penn State and No. 16 Ohio State.
After a win against Illinois sparked a four-game win streak for the Badgers, they fell back to Earth with back-to-back losses to Minnesota.
While Wisconsin was disappointed with how those close matches turned out, it has to be satisfied with its response.
Since losing to Minnesota, UW has dropped just two sets over the course of its current win streak. Perhaps their biggest win came on the road against No. 8 Nebraska, where the Badgers won for the first time in program history. Overcoming the notorious Nebraska crowd will surely better prepare the Badgers for the tough road ahead.
Illinois, like many other teams, has had an up-and-down Big Ten season. They’ve had their highs, like beating Michigan and Northwestern, but have also fallen to Penn State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Minnesota among others.
No matter how much the Fighting Illini have struggled with ranked opponents in the Big Ten, the Badgers know no win comes easy in this conference.
After the Badgers take on the Fighting Illini, they will head back home for a grudge match with Ohio State Sunday.