With a tough five-set victory over Purdue that extended the UW volleyball team’s win streak to five straight matches, No. 3 Wisconsin (12-2 Big Ten, 20-3 overall) appears to be hitting its stride just as the end of the regular season approaches.
This weekend, the Badgers will hit the road and venture across the border to take on Illinois (7-7, 14-11) Friday night and then head to Evanston to face Northwestern (1-13, 8-18) Saturday night.
Just over three weeks ago, Illinois was ranked inside the top 25 and sported a 7-2 conference record. Since then it has tanked, losing its last six matches and falling completely out of the conference title picture.
Although this recent rough patch has doomed their season, the Fighting Illini still have weapons that can take over if left unaccounted for. The Badgers will need to play close attention to sophomore setter Jourdyn Poulter, who is averaging 10.6 assists per set, the fourth most in the Big Ten. Thanks to her, Illinois has outhit its competition .253-.187 this season. Freshman hitter Jacqueline Quade and senior hitter Naya Crittenden also occupy premiere roles in the offense, with 2.79 and 2.51 kills per set, respectively.
Since Illinois’ offense can be highly-efficient with its lethal hitting, serving will be integral for the Badgers. Subpar serving reared its ugly head against Purdue, as the Badgers committed a host of service errors and short serves, setting up the Boilermakers for quick attacks.
Like Illinois, Northwestern has sustained a long losing streak. The Wildcats enter this weekend having dropped each of their last four matches and nine of their last 10. They rank dead last in kills, assists and blocks in the conference.
If Wisconsin struggles with any aspect of the Wildcats, it will likely be junior outside hitter Symone Abbott. The team leader in kills, Abbott averages 3.88 kills per set, fifth in the Big Ten. Senior middle blocker Maddie Slater can also not be overlooked in the defensive scheme, as she owns a .310 hitting percentage, the highest on the team.
Given that both opponents have good outside hitters, it will be imperative for Wisconsin to tighten up on its side defense. Last Saturday, Purdue’s Faye Adelaja dominated the court, recording a career-high 21 kills, gauging Wisconsin with a hitting percentage of over .600. Adelaja was able to overpower Wisconsin by exploiting the voids in the the front of the court. The defense will have to recover to its early-season form to avoid that same result this weekend.
First serve for the matches with Illinois and Northwestern is set for Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.