After starting the 2017 season undefeated, the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers (11-9 Big Ten, 22-9 overall) started to struggle. But with postseason play came new beginnings and with it, another undefeated start.
With the first two matches of the NCAA tournament under their belt, the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers (11-9 Big Ten, 22-9 overall) advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in a dominating fashion.
Wisconsin swept the Marquette Golden Eagles (15-4 Big East, 22-10 overall) on Friday and No. 22 Iowa State Cyclones (11-5 Big 12, 22-7 overall) on Saturday and didn’t lose a set this weekend.
The Badgers nearly doubled Marquette’s hitting percentage and beat the Golden Eagles 27-25, 25-21 and 25-11. After a close competitive first set, Marquette lost steam and Wisconsin capitalized on it.
Senior Kelli Bates and freshmen Dana Rettke and Grace Loberg led the team with 11 kills apiece. Sophomore libero Tiffany Clark also contributed tremendously to the team with a match-high of 19 digs. Freshman setter Sidney Hilley, yet again, set the team up for victory with 42 assists.
“We had some jitters. That is natural. We had some young people playing in their first NCAA tournament game,” Bates said. With a majority of the team experiencing the NCAA tournament for the first time, the team responded strongly to the new experience.
“Our goal was to get stronger throughout the match and we did that. We really put the hammer down,” Bates added.
After starting the tournament with a bang, the Badgers’ next match followed suit but was not done as easily. The Cyclones didn’t let the Badgers get away with an easy sweep. Wisconsin only beat the Cyclones by a small margin each set, winning 25-22, 25-20 and 25-23.
Rettke finished with 15 kills, Loberg with 13 kills and Bates with nine kills as the three led the team again. Bates added 17 digs, playing a complete game once again.
“Kelli Bates had some huge digs when the game was on the line. That's what seniors do,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said after the game.
Sheffield also made a point to recognize Hilley’s performance in leading the offense.
Bates, Hilley and the entire team did what needed to be done in order to advance, making this their fifth-straight appearance NCAA Sweet Sixteen. As for Bates and the other seniors, their seasons spent as Badgers was never unaccompanied with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen, and as Sheffield put it, that’s what his seniors do.
The Badgers head west to Stanford, Calif., to face No. 3 Stanford (15-5 Pac-12, 27-7 overall) on Friday, Dec. 8 in hopes to continue their undefeated postseason and season.