The No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers (14-2 Big Ten, 22-3 overall) have another grueling weekend ahead of them as they will take on No. 18 Michigan (10-6, 21-7) and No. 13 Michigan State (12-4, 23-5) at the UW Field House.
If Wisconsin is to extend its win streak over the weekend, the defense will need to be on the top of its game. A crucial component to the defense lately has been junior Kelli Bates, who is playing libero for the first time this season. Bates has pushed herself in order to transition to the new position, and was even awarded the honor of Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week for her performance last weekend.
“I have been working hard in the gym,” Bates said. “I have been going in everyday about 45 minutes early to get digging reps, before the passers come in and do serve and receive reps before practice.”
The biggest struggle for the defense will be handling the incredible serving from the Spartans, who lead the Big Ten in service aces. They have three of the four individual leaders in the conference in service aces per set, redshirt junior Brooke Kranda, junior Rachel Minarick and junior Holly Toliver.
“We know that they are probably the best serving team in the Big Ten, if not the league right now,” Bates said. “A lot of times we see teams with a lot of float servers so we find a rhythm through that, but I know one girl has a hybrid serve, one girl has a top spin and a couple girls have a few nasty floats, so we just have to stay balanced and have to find a rhythm through whatever they are throwing at us.”
Having already been pushed to five sets against Michigan earlier in the season, Wisconsin will need to be at its best to get a victory. In the previous match against the Wolverines, the Badgers took a two-set lead, but then lost the next two before winning the match in the fifth. In order for UW to avoid a similar fate on Friday, it will need to perform at its best in every set, something they have struggled to accomplish against top competition.
What could give the Badgers the edge over their two ranked opponents this weekend is that they will be playing in front of sold out crowds at the Field House, which has become commonplace. Wisconsin has the second highest home attendance in the Big Ten.
“I think it’s one of the best venues for volleyball in the country,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “The crowd does a great job of not just cheering when good stuff happens, but knowing when we need a lift and getting into it. The crowd is starting to remind me of a football crowd.”
The weekend for the Badgers will kick off against Michigan Friday at 7:30 p.m. and will conclude with Michigan State Saturday at 7 p.m.