The No. 3 Badgers (14-2 Big Ten, 22-3 overall) extended their winning streak to seven over the weekend, after defeating Illinois (7-9, 14-13) and Northwestern (1-14, 8-19).
The defense of Wisconsin was crucial to the first win of the weekend against Illinois on Friday. The team had nine blocks as senior Haleigh Nelson notched seven of them. The Badgers also had 57 digs in the match, 16 more than the Fighting Illini.
“I thought that was right up there with some of the best defensive play we’ve had in my time here,” head coach Kelly Sheffield told UWBadgers.com. “Amber [MacDonald] really set the tone early. Some of those were [Naya] Crittenden bombs. I mean just bombs that she just got there and got up, and we converted off quite a few of those.”
UW’s offense also put plenty of pressure on Illinois, forcing hitting errors and causing them to have a hitting percentage lower than .10 for the match. All of this led to the domination by the Badgers, who were only behind for one point the entire match, the first point. The sweep of the Fighting Illini was completed with a final kill by Nelson, her ninth of the match. The Badgers won the three sets with scores of 25-17, 25-18 and 25-21.
Wisconsin did not have as easy a time against Northwestern, needing five sets to get the win. The Badgers struggled out of the gate, losing the first two sets 27-25 and 25-18, with 17 hitting errors in those sets. Even with the struggles in the first couple of sets, UW regained its composure and with their backs against the wall started to fight back. Redshirt senior Romana Kriskova led the comeback, with 14 of her 18 kills in the final three sets of the match.
“I thought she was great tonight. But that's one of the strengths of our team,” Sheffield told UWBadgers.com. “Just about everybody played pretty well last night except her, and tonight she put us on her shoulders and played really well.”
Along with Kriskova’s impact, the Badgers' comeback was keyed by the reduction of their errors as they only committed three in each of the last three sets. With the decrease in errors, Wisconsin won the final three sets, 25-21, 25-22 and 15-11 to complete the comeback. They avoided the huge upset, but Sheffield said his team needs to have a better start in the future if they want to further extend their winning streak.
“I'm not sure we came out with the intensity that we needed to play a Big Ten opponent to tell you the truth,” Sheffield told UWBadgers.com.
The Badgers will head back to Madison to take on No. 17 Michigan Friday and No. 15 Michigan State Saturday at the UW Field House.