Successfully closing out opponents has proven to be quite the challenge for the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers as of late.
During its recent three-game losing streak — the longest skid since 2015 — UW has squandered multiple opportunities to win, including relinquishing commanding 2-0 leads on two separate occasions.
So, when Wisconsin — after claiming the first two sets — allowed Nebraska to extend the match with a win in the third and then come from behind once more to take a late lead in the fourth set, it looked as if another nightmare scenario was on the horizon at the Field House.
But head coach Kelly Sheffield’s team, this time, managed to hold it together Wednesday night as the Badgers (3-4 Big Ten, 12-4 overall) bested No. 3 Nebraska (6-1, 13-4) by a score of 25-16, 25-15, 17-25, 25-23, handing the Cornhuskers their first conference loss of 2017.
“There were probably a lot of people watching that on T.V. that had us losing [the fourth set] and losing the fifth,” Sheffield said. “I thought, to come back there in the fourth, making winning plays — just playing steady, just doing your job, putting a good serve in, passing, playing some defense — I just thought we were steady there at the end of the fourth.”
The savior for the Badgers turned out to be redshirt sophomore Madison Duello. The middle blocker recorded eight blocks and racked up a career-high 13 kills, the last of which came on match point and sealed the victory.
"It was time that I needed to step up,” Duello said. “I wasn't scared of the block, I wasn't scared of making an error. I just went out there and hit the shots I was given and tried my best."
The night started out on a positive note for Wisconsin. The defense, which was gashed by Michigan State this past weekend, really improved and set the tone early. Because UW struggled behind the line, committing seven service errors in the opening set, it had to rely on its defense to get the job done. The Badgers proved to be a major force at the net, countering the Huskers’ attack with five blocks in the first set alone.
Wisconsin’s fast start carried over into the next set as well. The team went on a scoring binge to begin the subsequent frame, carving up the Cornhuskers to take a 10-2 lead. Senior hitter Lauryn Gillis led the way on offense with five kills in the set, while senior outside hitter and libero Kelli Bates chipped in defensively with five digs. The block continued to shine, as freshman middle blocker Dana Rettke added three rejections of her own.
Nebraska’s uncharastically poor performance picked up after the intermission. Middle blocker Briana Holman gave the Cornhuskers a desperately-needed lift, scoring four points to spark a 8-2 Nebraska run midway through the third. Unable to answer, the Badgers execution brokedown, making three consecutive errors to end the set and extend the match.
The competition, however, really heated up in the fourth frame. In a set featuring eight lead changes, Wisconsin managed to gain a slight 23-21 lead after a late 3-0 run. Then Nebraska tied it up on two kills from its outside hitter Jazz Sweet, but Duello and Rettke proceeded to put the last two points on the board, officially making the upset a reality.
“Everyone did their part and everyone played their best,” Rettke said of the win. “It wasn't one person that was really standing out, like having X amount of kills, but everyone did their part and it was so cool to see everyone come together."
Wisconsin will continue its homestand Friday night, when it takes on the Indiana Hoosiers at the Field House. The match will start at 7 p.m.