If any fans left the Field House worried after watching Wisconsin drop its first set of the season a few days ago against Marquette, those concerns were promptly put to rest Saturday night.
In its best performance of the season, No. 5 UW (9-0) thrashed Southern Mississippi by a score of 25-8, 25-10, 25-11, making quick work of the Golden Eagles to secure the Badger Classic tournament title. The Badgers, outclassing their opponents in virtually every phase of game, managed to take all three sets by double figures and ensure that the outcome was never in doubt.
“The thing I was telling the team downstairs that I thought we did a good job of tonight was playing our game, and that’s something that we discuss quite a bit in practices,” head Coach Kelly Sheffield said. “Can you play the same way point after point after point, and not get caught up in the first point of the match or the last, whether you’re beating someone handedly, or it's close.”
The key to the Badgers’ success Saturday was their masterful and highly-balanced offensive attack. Wisconsin made full use of its wide array of scoring options, as seven different players recorded at least one kill. Operating in full force, the offense picked apart Southern Mississippi and put points on the board at will, compiling a season-high .461 hitting percentage against a defense that had played well before coming to Madison.
Wisconsin also took advantage of a sloppy showing by the visiting team. Struggling to keep pace all night long, Southern Miss did itself no favors, committing a staggering 25 errors and making it next to impossible for their players to find any semblance of cohesion or rhythm. On the other end, Wisconsin made only three errors in the contest.
The Badgers got going in a hurry to start the night. They raced out to a big 14-4 lead in the first set behind four points from senior hitter Lauryn Gillis along with a pair by sophomore blocker Madison Duello. Unable to respond, USM, marred by a myriad of miscues, continued to wither away and quickly succumbed to defeat.
The middle frame was hardly any different. Ahead 4-3, Wisconsin scored nine unanswered points and opened up a double-digit cushion that would prove to be insurmountable. The Badgers prevailed by 15.
The Golden Eagles couldn’t put up a fight in the third either. Like in the previous sets, the result was never in question. After jumping in front by seven, Lauryn Gillis dealt the decisive blow, delivering four kills in a row to make the score 20-9. A rash of errors would once again doom USM and gift the Badgers with an easy sweep.
After coasting through non-conference play unbeaten, UW will put its perfect record to the test in a grueling Big Ten schedule that starts next weekend. First up for the Badgers will be Michigan State Friday night, and they will meet Michigan the following Sunday. Both matches will take place at the Field House.