In what has come to encapsulate a troubling yet all too familiar theme of the 2017 volleyball season, a match that No. 8 Wisconsin looked firmly in control of completely unraveled after intermission, as a possible home sweep for the Badgers ended in a disastrous 25-14, 25-16, 21-25, 23-25,13-15 loss to conference rival Ohio State Friday night at the Field House.
Like many contests that have yielded similar outcomes this year, UW (6-7 Big Ten, 13-7 overall) coasted through the first two sets of play, strolling into the locker room holding a 2-0 lead heading into the break.
But once the players returned to the court for the third and potentially final frame, their previous good fortune went entirely awry, as the Badgers fell into a funk they could never find a way out of. After promptly putting the Buckeyes away in the first two sets, Wisconsin lost three consecutive sets by a combined total of just eight points
“Kind of two different matches,” Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “You had the first two sets, and then you had the last three that were a heck of a battle. The first two sets we thought we were playing at a pretty high level, and then I thought we took our foot off the pedal coming out of the locker room defensively.”
Sheffield’s evaluation of the defense appears valid. Ohio State’s offense really picked up following the second stanza, hitting over .250 over the last last three sets after being held well under .200 in the earlier frames.
“Our defensive intensity stayed down in the locker room, and I thought because of that they come out and hit .450 in the third set,” Sheffield said. “All of a sudden you have a team that feels like you gave them life.”
“I’m not sure we did a really good job of, when they were down, trying to knock them out,” Sheffield added.
Predictably, the most drama of the night ensued as the pressure reached its climax. Down 12-9 with just three points to play, Wisconsin received a clutch kill from junior hitter Tionna Williams, and then senior hitters Kelli Bates and Lauryn Gillis tied it up with back-to-back scores, forcing OSU to call a timeout.
A few moments later, after Wisconsin came from behind again to even things at 13-13, a kill by blocker Ashley Wenz put Ohio State in front for good.
Bates, who etched her name into Wisconsin volleyball lore by recording her one-thousandth career kill Friday, was hit hard by the loss.
“It’s not easy right now, and especially when we need to find a little more toughness within ourselves,” Bates said. “It hurts when those are games that you need to win.
“How many five-setters are we going to go losing thirteen to fifteen? It hurts”
The Badgers will try to recover Saturday night as they host Maryland to wrap up the homestand. The match will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Field House.