Despite coming dangerously close to losing its first set of the season, No. 6 Wisconsin (6-0) managed to walk away from the UW Field House unscathed yet again, sweeping the Lipscomb Bison (4-3) by a score of 25-19, 25-19, 26-24, in the first round of the annual HotelRed Invitational Thursday night.
After gaining a 2-0 set-lead, the Badgers had to fight tooth and nail for the final frame of the match. UW looked in control as the action got underway, but the home team would eventually let its once comfortable lead slip away, trailing 23-24 late in the third. On the verge of a potential fourth set, the Badgers found a way to avoid losing a set for the first time this year, as junior Tionna Williams came up with a big block to tie the score and keep UW alive.
But that set-saving swat was only one of many blocks in what proved to be a night chocked full of them. In fact, as a team, the Badgers finished the contest with 16 total blocks, a new school record. Williams, a player who prides herself on defense, had a hand in all but five of those blocks, recording 11 blocks to go along with 10 kills in the first double-double of her career. With the performance, she also became Wisconsin’s new individual record-holder for most blocks in a single match.
“I know what I have to do, and it’s a lot of just trusting the scouting report and remaining calm at the net," Williams said. “We work a lot on blocking in practice, so it’s just making sure I’m not going crazy doing something I’m not used to doing and keeping my game clean.”
While Williams rightfully garnered most of the attention, freshman middle blocker Dana Rettke continued to impress. Her six-foot-eight frame demoralized an undersized Lipscomb frontcourt and overpowered the Bison at the net. She looked especially dominant in the opening set, where she fueled the Badgers’ offensive attack with six of her 13 kills on a whopping .667 hitting percentage. Rettke, along with senior outside hitter Kelli Bates, led the Badgers to a six-point set-victory in the first to go up 1-0 in the match.
The middle stanza, while not as tight as the third, tested the Badgers nonetheless. Wisconsin battled fiercely with the Bison at the outset, as the two teams traded points early. With the score narrowly in its favor, UW sparked a crucial 6-0 run on four blocks by Rettke to turn a two point edge into a 14-7 lead midway through the set. Lipscomb did find some late life, cutting the deficit to as little as four at one point. The surge eventually stalled, however, and the Badgers grabbed their second straight set.
The victory was made sweeter by the return of standout hitter Lauryn Gillis. Gillis who had missed the previous five matches due to injury, found her way back into the fold Thursday, appearing for the first time during the second set. The USC transfer made an impact the moment she touched the ball, hammering home a kill just seconds after she checked into the action. Watching a lethal scorer like Gillis come back so quickly is surely a welcome sight for the rest of the Badgers, particularly in the absence of Molly Haggerty.
“It definitely just pumps us up,” Williams said. “Seeing her come back into practices and the progress she’s been making so far, it’s just motivation for our team, as well as the fans. You could hear them out there, so we’re grateful to have her back.”
Wisconsin and Texas A&M are set to square off for the HotelRed Invitational championship this Saturday night. The match will get underway at 7:00 p.m. from the Field House.