The No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (6-1 Big Ten, 14-2 overall) faltered at home in front of a sold out crowd against No. 3 Minnesota (6-1, 14-2) for their first Big Ten loss of the season.
The Badgers took an early lead in the first set 6-4 after trading points with Minnesota to start the game, but the lead was short-lived as the Gophers went on a five-point run to take a 9-6 lead. UW fell even further behind as the Gophers went on a late three-point run to give them a 19-12 lead. The Badgers mounted a small comeback with a three-point run with Minnesota at set point, but they fell short, losing the first set 25-20. Wisconsin’s defense struggled to contain the powerful offense of Minnesota, recording just one block in the first set.
The struggles continued in the second set as the Badgers fell behind early 7-2, the defense unable to stop the potent attack of the Gophers. The Wisconsin offense was not faring any better, stringing no more than two points together until finally they went on a three-point run down 23-13, spearheaded by two kills from Sophomore Tionna Williams. The Gophers proved to be too much once again in the second set, however, overpowering UW 25-18.
The Badgers continued to get in large deficits and tried to dig themselves out of trouble, but Minnesota held strong.
“I thought they just played a little bit more efficiently and cleaner than we did,” senior Lauren Carlini said. “We dug ourselves in five, six-point holes in the beginning of games and we would start picking up towards point 15, and by then it was too late.”
Wisconsin battled to start the third set, with the defense getting two blocks in an early rally, but the offense could not get on track, only stringing consecutive points together late in the set after falling behind 12-23. The Gophers would finish off the sweep of the Badgers with a score of 14-25, handing them their first sweep at home since September 2014. Minnesota’s dominant offense was led by senior Sarah Wilhite, who registered 12 kills.
The Gophers’ dominance was in part thanks to their defense, which out blocked the Badgers—the Big Ten leaders in blocks—14-3. UW’s offensive struggles stemmed from a lack of aggressive serving.
“We couldn’t get them out of system,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “And that was because we weren’t putting enough pressure on them from the service line.”
The Badgers recognize that their serving needs to improve if they are to continue getting better throughout the latter portion of the season.
“I think going forward, kind of like Kelly said, we need to work on our serving; we need to stay aggressive and figure out how to get people out of system,” Carlini said. “I think that we have been up and down with our serving numbers, so being able to be more efficient behind the service line [is key].”
Sheffield doesn’t believe that being ranked No. 1 for the first time in program history was a distraction, and says it provides no excuse for the loss. The Badgers will look forward to redeeming themselves in their next match against No. 18 Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. in Ann Arbor, Mich.