After capturing a championship crown at the Rainbow Wahine Invitational in Hawaii last weekend, the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers opened their home season this weekend by notching another pair of victories en route to winning the HotelRED tournament.
The Badgers (5-0) made their first appearance at the UW Field House Friday night, where they took care of No. 18 San Diego (2-2) in straight sets, before proceeding to sweep unranked Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (2-3) by a score of 25-10, 25-10, 25-13 in the final round of the invitational Sunday afternoon.
Corpus Christi held their own in the first few minutes of the opening set, but the momentum of the match quickly shifted to Wisconsin thanks to a barrage of Badger blocks in the first set. Emboldened by a 3-0 run generated by the defense, the second-best team in the nation overpowered their opponents the rest of the way, nabbing the first set in 25-10 blowout fashion.
From that point, nothing could be done to stop Wisconsin. The Badgers erupted to start off the middle set, ignited by a lengthy 9-1 surge that culminated in a 25-10 repeat victory.
Through the first two sets of the match, scoring for Wisconsin was relatively balanced and evenly distributed across a variety of different players, but redshirt junior Romana Kriskova took things into her own hands in the third. The Slovakian proved too much for the Islanders to handle as the game wound down, collecting a game-best six kills in the final set and leading the Badgers to a 25-13 victory.
Since the outcome was never in question, Sheffield felt that this game presented a unique opportunity for his younger players and reserves to gain some experience. Among those who came off the bench and impressed the coach were freshman Mallory Dixon, who recorded her first career ace and senior Tori Blake, who provided tremendous reinforcement on defense.
“Tori (Blake) is up here, and I thought she was very, very active and making herself available,” Sheffield said. “They taught her to come right out of the gate when she comes in with a short serve and she nailed that and then terminating a transition kill. She did a lot of positive things.”
"Mallory (Dixon) got her first action and she came in and got an ace. I like the fact that Mallory came in after struggling for the first week and a half of practice and put some good ones in there today.”
Hellacious defense propelled the Badgers to the title game triumph over Corpus Christi. From start to finish, the Wisconsin defense actively disrupted the Islanders’ offensive flow, as the team combined to register 12 blocked shots. Senior Hayley Nelson, who was responsible for five of those blocks, said the team worked to put themselves in prime positions to make plays, and let their advantage in height do the rest.
“It ended up that we got a lot of touches and a lot of stuff-blocks just because the two teams we played hit pretty low to the net, so if we were able to get our hands where they needed to be, then we would be more likely to get pretty good blocks,” Nelson said after the game. “I think the pin blockers did a really good job with locating their blocks and setting up. Tionna [Williams] also did a really good job, and Tori [Blake] and Julia [Saunders] came right off the bench.”
While offensive woes ailed the Islanders for all three sets, it was a different story for the home team, as Wisconsin’s high-powered offensive attack seemingly scored at will. In fact, UW put forth its most efficient scoring display of 2016, successfully converting 46 of its 90 attempted hits, good for a season-high 45.6 hitting percentage.
The Badgers’ offense operated so crisply because they executed their full game plan with little difficulty. In contrast to the Islanders, whose sloppy play allowed for 25 errors, the Badgers only committed five throughout the three sets of play, limiting the rally ruining, self-destructive mistakes to a minimum.
Apart from taking home first place, several Wisconsin players received additional accolades for outstanding individual performances. Lauren Carlini and Lauryn Gillis each made the all-tournament team, while Haleigh Nelson received Most Valuable Player honors.
Next weekend, the Badgers will venture to North Carolina for the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, where they will battle with the No. 12 Tar Heels Friday night and then take on Louisville in a Saturday matinee.