Following a devastating defeat to Michigan State in its Big Ten opener Friday night, No. 5 Wisconsin (1-1 Big Ten, 10-1 overall) got back to business as usual Sunday afternoon, sweeping the twentieth-ranked Michigan Wolverines (0-2, 10-4) by a score of 25-11, 30-28, 25-13, at the Field House.
Much like they did in their previous match, the Badgers came sprinting out of the opening gates, getting off to a very fast start in the first set. UW welcomed the Wolverines to Madison by mounting a quick 9-4 lead on a 8-1 run which gave the early edge to the home team. The Badgers, who finished the frame by hitting a remarkable .500, continued to pile on points and run up the score. After the margin grew to 16-9 and Michigan called a timeout, the Badgers closed out the set by outscoring their opponents 9-2 en route to a double-digit victory.
The second set was a much different story, though. Wisconsin, whose struggles with Michigan State began in the middle stanza of the last match, looked like it was on a very similar trajectory on Sunday. In the early going, Michigan managed to gain an edge over the Badgers that, although small, lasted late into the set. The Badgers trailed for every second of set two until freshman blocker Dana Rettke, on a pass from first-year setter Sydney Hilley, struck down a kill to even the score at 15-15. But the Wolverines would eventually regain the lead and take the set to match point, setting the stage for what would be a thrilling back-and-forth between two conference foes.
Down by two with Michigan a point away from victory, senior hitter Lauryn Gillis scored twice to keep the Badgers from losing the set. Then, with her team still trailing 24-25 Gillis responded yet again, tying it up with her third kill in as many chances. In a dramatic, set-deciding sequence, each team wrestled for the lead, with neither able to scrape together the two-point edge needed to prevail. But finally, on UW’s fourth set-point, the score 29-28, senior hitter Kelli Bates came up with a kill that put the Badgers over the top. The two seniors—Bates and Gillis—each recorded a team-high twelve kills and combined for ten digs.
“[In practice] we play this game called ‘winning time.’ We don’t know the score, we just play all out,” Gillis said of her pivotal play in the second set. “That was kind of it. In that moment, the score wasn’t a factor for me. I was just telling myself to play my game the way I know have to – as if the score wasn’t even there.”
Gillis, nor the rest of the team, would have to deal with that kind of pressure in the third. With the score 5-4 in favor of Michigan, the Badgers answered with another big run and claim a 9-5 lead. Then, as the match was beginning to wind down, Rettke, Bates and sophomore middle Madison Duello all produced points as part of a 5-0 to put the match away.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield was proud of how his team recovered from the disappointment of losing for the first time last Friday.
“I thought we rebounded from Friday really, really well. We came back in to practice yesterday and watched film, and I thought we had the energy that you like to see from your team coming back whether it’s a win or a loss, just ready.”
Next weekend, Wisconsin will travel to two different cities in what will be only its second road trip of the season thus far. First, the Badgers will pay a visit to Iowa City where they will play the Iowa Hawkeyes, and then they move on to Nebraska for a matchup with the Cornhuskers this Saturday.