Looking ahead toward two trips to Michigan to open Big Ten play in the upcoming weeks, where his team will take on Michigan (7-2-2 overall) and Michigan State (4-7-2), Badgers (3-5-4) head coach Mike Eaves likes how resilient and attentive to detail his young team is.
“We have been down at times, but we've fought back in the games. So that is where I would like to start with answering your question. What I do know now that is different from this team is that our attention to detail is better, in all facets of our system, whether it's breaking out, forecheck, neutral zone, our penalty killing, our power play, that we have come a long way,” Eaves said.
Eaves has two newly hired assistant coaches on the staff this season, Luke Strand and J.B. Bittner, and is pleased with the different roles they fill for the team.
“When we have been able to delegate Luke at one end and J.B. at the other, I can sit back and watch both ends, and you can tell the guys have been around the game a long time,” he said. “They are excellent in their teaching and their delivery of the message to the team, and that's a really good thing for our staff.”
In preparation for Michigan, Eaves believes that getting ready to play at a high tempo will be crucial and that the Badgers will need to “be able to play fast” against a Michigan squad that “skates and has good skills.”
The Border Battle between Wisconsin (10-0-0 Big Ten, 16-0-0 overall) and Minnesota (11-1-0, 15-1-0) is not contained to football as next weekend the top-ranked Badgers welcome the No. 3 Gophers to LaBahn Arena for a crucial early season series.
Motivation is something that head coach Mark Johnson does not believe his team will be lacking this week in practice.
“History tells me as a player, when I played against the Gophers, it didn't take you much to get you motivated. You were excited whether you were playing here in Madison or you were playing up in Minneapolis, and I think from the coaching standpoint, the players are probably a little more focused in practice over the course of the week because they as players enjoy these type of weekends too,” he said. “These are the weekends that you put all the extra work in the summer, the extra reps in the weight room, the extra skating. These are the fun weekends where you get to go out and showcase yourself against a real top opponent,”
Sophomore forward Emily Clark will almost certainly play a large role in the upcoming series, as she has been able to put the puck in the net in each of the past six games.
“You know, when you watch us play, there are certain people that are going to stick out over the course of the game, and she is certainly one that's been able to be recognized by our fans and our opponents because she is playing at such a high level right now,” Johnson said.
UW Field House will be the location of first-round NCAA tournament matches this week as the No. 6-seeded Badgers (16-4 Big Ten, 24-6 overall) take on Oregon (10-10 Pac-12, 16-13 overall) Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield did not waste any time when explaining the excitement surrounding the program right now.
“We will skip through a bunch of the coaches' clichés right now. We're excited about playing, we're excited about hosting. We're hoping that we can pack the Field House this weekend, and should be some great volleyball,” Sheffield said.
For a Wisconsin team with national championship hopes, Sheffield knows it can not look past an Oregon Ducks group that has an unconventional offensive strategy.
“They've got kind of a setter that — I'm watching film. I've never seen a setter set as many quicks from sitting on her rear end or even lying on her back,” he said. “There is one time she is setting a quick, when she is literally lying on her back. Who does that? But they do it and they do it very well.”
Fortunately, the Badgers carry momentum as they enter the tournament currently riding a 12-game win streak and Sheffield likes that his players are “taking pride in keeping the ball off the floor and taking pride in that our opponents aren’t aceing us.”