UW opens Big Ten play this weekend, looks to remain unbeaten despite tougher opponents.

Image By: Niamh Rahman and Niamh Rahman

Often, the first few games of a team’s season can be an indicator of overall success. Win a few and the overall season outlook looks positive — drop a couple and that team puts themselves in a tough position to battle back for conference and potential playoff prowess. Still, success in the first couple matches of a season — even as many as the first nine — does not necessarily entail an elite finish.

For the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (9-0), its first nine matches have gone about as well as possible, only dropping one of 28 sets. Accordingly, many are expecting the Badgers to knife through the rest of their schedule and make another run at a national championship. With conference play now on the docket however, the trajectory for the Badgers becomes increasingly difficult. With teams like No. 1 Minnesota (11-0) and No. 2 Penn State (10-0), along with the overall competitiveness of any Big Ten matchup, Wisconsin will have to continue to improve in order to maintain their recent dominance.

For the Badgers, these tougher tests start now: Big Ten play begins this weekend.

Despite the first set loss of the 2017 season happening last weekend against Marquette, UW enters conference play undefeated. Although the Golden Eagles won the first set of that match 19-25, the Badgers did not fold under their first hiccup. They responded immediately and won the next three sets and the match with scores of 25-13, 25-21 and 26-24.

“The change happened right after we lost the set,” senior outside hitter Kelli Bates said. “That was the first set we lost. That was a little bit of adversity, but it was fun for us [seniors] because we know that’s what it’s like in the Big Ten. It’s a matter of us, Gilly and I, making sure the younger ones know that it’s okay to lose some of those battles because that is what it’s like in the Big Ten every time you step on the court.”

As they say, it’s okay to lose the battle, as long as you win the war ... or something like that. As for the Badgers, despite the loss in that small battle, the war is still being won. But the war continues, and only thickens. The minor setback in that pre-conference match was only a glimpse of what obstacles will likely come with conference play in the Big Ten.

With seven freshmen making up the team, conference play in the regular season is something of a mystery to many of the Badgers. Bates said the younger girls are “all so open to learning so it makes it easy for us to help them.”

“They have done a really good job of adapting to what we do,” senior Lauryn Gillis said regarding the freshmen. “This preseason they did a good job of understanding our culture and then buying in with it completely. There isn’t a lot of pulling them along they are usually there right with us throughout the whole entire process. Them being freshmen isn’t really a worry of ours.”

Both seniors agreed that with such a youthful team, focusing on their own responsibilities and how they perform together is more important than what they see on the scouting footage. Big Ten conference play is fast and competitive, and it will be a much different game for many of Wisconsin’s freshman. Still, if the Badgers internalize their roles and focus on doing their jobs, Bates, Gillis and the rest of the squad believes that the start of conference play can be a continuation of recent success.

Wisconsin hosts the Michigan State Spartans (7-2) at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 22 and the No. 20 Michigan Wolverines (10-2) on Sunday, Sept. 24 at 2 p.m. All matches will take place in the UW Fieldhouse.

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