The 2018 season has lived up to high expectations for the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (9-5 Big Ten, 16-6 overall) so far. Ranked ninth overall in the preseason AVCA Coaches Poll, the Badgers have been consistent despite one recent blip.
The Badgers took down No. 2 Texas at home in early September, their first signature win of 2018. The four-set victory put Wisconsin’s record at 3-0 on the season and were led by strong performances from sophomore outside hitters Grace Loberg and Molly Haggerty.
Entering conference play at 7-1, the Badgers ran into tougher competition in a dominant Big Ten. The then-No. 6 Minnesota Golden Gophers swept them 3-0 in late September in Minneapolis — the first time UW was shut out all season. But the team rebounded nicely just three days later, sweeping No. 16 Purdue to bounce back. On October 27th, Wisconsin was an impressive 6-3 against ranked opponents.
Wisconsin’s last two matchups tampered enthusiasm. On October 31, the Badgers hosted No. 3 Minnesota (14-0 Big Ten, 20-2 overall) at the UW Field House, and the Golden Gophers quickly silenced the crowd with a four-set win. Rettke set a school record with 30 kills in the loss, beating the previous mark of 27 kills in the 25-point era. Wisconsin was unable to capitalize on a first set win and dropped the next three en route to their fifth loss of the season.
Wisconsin was defeated at home once again by No. 14 Michigan in similar fashion. The Badgers took the first set 25-19, then proceeded to fall 25-20, 25-22, 25-22 to the Wolverines for their first two-game losing streak of the season. Despite early momentum in back-to-back crucial matchups, the team came away without a win to show for it.
Heading into Friday’s matchup with No. 12 Purdue (10-4 Big Ten, 21-4 overall) at the Field House, the Badgers are in desperate need of victories in order to climb back into the Big Ten race. Wisconsin currently sits in sixth place, but just two games seperate teams 2-6 in the standings. With a win over the Boilermakers, the Badgers can leapfrog back into the conference’s top three. Purdue heads into the crucial matchup riding a seven game winning streak.
Beyond Friday, the Badgers have five conference games remaining, including a road trip to No. 17 Penn State (10-4 Big Ten, 19-5 overall) on November 24 to close out the regular season. The match will serve as the final test for WIsconsin before the NCAA tournament, which begins five days later.