Fresh off its first loss of the 2016 campaign, the No. 6-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team will travel to Texas with hopes of redeeming itself against No. 16 Texas A&M (6-3) and No. 2 Texas (7-1) this weekend.
Set to square off against some stiff competition, Wisconsin (6-1) cannot afford to take either of its upcoming opponents lightly. The Badgers’ first stop in the Lone Star State will be in College Station, where they will pay a visit to the Texas A&M Aggies this Friday night.
Then, in a highly touted clash between two national heavyweights, UW will face one of its toughest tests of the season in a Sunday afternoon meeting with the Texas Longhorns.
The Aggies enter this weekend riding a 12-set win streak behind the magnificent play of 2015 SEC Player of the Year Stephanie Aiple. UT, on the other hand, features great length throughout its entire roster, an imposing physical advantage which enables them to play with great tenacity.
In terms of developing a game plan, the Badgers are actually using last Friday’s loss to North Carolina as a frame of reference for what they might expect to see this weekend. Much like UNC, the Texas teams benefit from an incredibly physical style of a play. As a result, a great deal of this week’s practice time has been spent trying to correct the things that went wrong against the Tar Heels as the team prepares for a similar opponent.
“We were told Texas A&M has the same physicality as UNC, so we’ll see that again,” junior Kelli Bates said after Tuesday’s practice. “We know Texas’s game. We know they have a bunch of huge hitters, huge blockers, and it’s just kind of gonna be a bunch of repeats of UNC … Now that we’ve seen the look of that size of a block and how hard they swing and how dynamic they can be, we’ll be able to use the loss to UNC and be able to adapt better to the teams this weekend.”
Another major point of emphasis for Wisconsin this weekend will be defense. With the Longhorns posting the second-highest hitting percentage in the Big 12, the Badgers’ ability to dig opposing swings on the backline will weigh heavy on the outcome.
“I’m preparing for a strong, big team, so we’re gonna have to play a lot of defense and coverage and be active in the back row,” freshman M.E. Dodge said. “We’re focusing on getting after everything in the back and just taking control.”
Aside from the obvious challenges that come with facing formidable competition, Wisconsin must shoulder the additional burden of a lineup compromised by injury. Since the injury bug first hit in North Carolina, head coach Kelley Sheffield has been forced to shake up the starting rotation.Bates moved from libero to outside hitter in place of senior Lauryn Gillis, while M.E. Dodge took over at libero.
Although injuries can definitely complicate things, Bates isn’t at all worried about them heading into the weekend.
“I’ve never personally experienced the lineup changes like this, but the best part about this team is that there is people that can jump in wherever you need, and they’re gonna do a good job,” she said. “You can always count on them because you know that they’ve studied our scouting report and you know they’re gonna do what they need to do to get better.”
Eager to play elite programs, Bates believes the type of intensity on display in Texas will help them down the line.
“Playing teams like that is great because we see teams like that in the Big Ten. Penn State is one of them, Illinois is one of them, so we’re gonna see teams like that all the time. Playing this kind of competition is only gonna benefit us.”
The first match against Texas A&M will start Friday, Sept. 16 at 4 p.m., while the match against Texas will begin Sunday, Sept. 18 at 12 p.m.