The No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers (13-2 Big Ten, 23-3 overall) made a statement with their dominating performance against the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (10-7, 21-8), after almost losing to them earlier in the season.
The Badgers got off to a slow start, dropping the first set even though the offense put up a solid hitting percentage of .405. Where they fell apart, though, was on the defensive end. There were many shots where the Wisconsin blockers didn’t quite get enough of their hands on the ball and it would tip out of bounds for Wolverine points, which ended up being the difference in a 25-23 first set loss for Wisconsin.
After the loss in the first set, the Badgers came out with a different energy that carried into the final three sets of the match. The defense came out with an urgency that led to improved numbers across the board. The increase in energy was showcased by junior Kelli Bates, who had nine digs in the second set, and sophomore Amber MacDonald, who registered seven digs in the third set.
“Those types of plays really get momentum on the court, and it fires other people up,” senior Lauren Carlini said. “You see her [MacDonald] scraping and you want to do the same thing and help her out and help the team out overall.”
While the offense wasn’t terrible in the first set, it really got into a rhythm in the final three stanzas, with multiple players recording at least 12 kills on the match. The leader was freshman Molly Haggerty with 22, but junior Lauryn Gillis had 16 and sophomore Tionna Williams added 13.
“We can mix it up a lot, so if they’re doing something with their blocking scheme, and they are taking a player or two out of the system that’s OK,” Carlini said. “Because we have other players who can score with one-on-one pretty easily, the options are endless.”
After the Badgers won the second set 25-18 and the third set 25-17, the Wolverines came out in the fourth looking defeated, allowing Wisconsin to look even more dominant than they had in the previous two sets. The Badgers’ serving picked up in the fourth set with their first service ace coming from senior Haleigh Nelson, leading to a 25-13 fourth set win and a 3-1 match win.
“We were a lot better serving-wise after the first set,” Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We did a better job of driving the passer; I thought early on we were putting a lot of balls right on them, we were getting into the seams and serving a little bit deeper, and I thought that made it a little more difficult.”
The Badgers will face another tough test against No. 13 Michigan State at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the UW Field House.