In an Elite Eight matchup at the Fieldhouse, the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (18-2 Big Ten, 26-6 overall) triumphed over the No. 5 Nebraska Cornhuskers (17-3 Big Ten, 28-5 overall) in three sets to send the Badgers to Pittsburg for the Final Four.
The key to the game was impressive defense, and the Badgers ability to take advantage of Nebraska’s mistakes. Wisconsin was also impressive in their ability to win long drawn out sets, relying on their experience to win over the Cornhuskers talent.
While all three sets besides the first were close, the Cornhuskers were unable to get much momentum throughout the match, and as a result lost each set in order. The game-plan for Nebraska may also be at fault. There was a clear emphasis on increasing the attack, but it led to many attack errors and easy Wisconsin points.
In the first set, a dominant string of service by Izzy Ashburn led to the Badgers gathering momentum, and easily running away with a 25-18 victory. While Nebraska’s defense clearly frustrated the Badgers, as a team Wisconsin hit far better than Nebraska, clearly showing they could play stellar defense as well.
In a pivotal second set, Nebraska was able to come out with an early 4-2 lead and led for most of the set. The Badgers were able to slowly chip away against Nebraska though, and tied the set at 20-20. During the set, the Cornhuskers made big errors, with a service error coupled with a few attack errors. The Badgers were able to remain mostly consistent, and Nebraska’s sloppy play ended up costing them the set.
In the third set the Badgers were able to take the lead early and were mostly in the driver’s seat. Both teams continued to play great defense, but mistakes on both service and the attack continued to compile for Nebraska, costing them points. Up 20-19, Wisconsin was able to score five points in succession behind a stellar performance from Dana Rettke.
Molly Haggerty, who was named MVP of the Region, led the way for the Badgers with 14 kills, three block assists, and a service ace.
For seniors Molly Haggerty and Tiffany Clark, tonight marked a bittersweet moment, as this was their last time playing in the Field House.
“I think every little girl … they always dream of moments like these and I know our whole team has. So to experience it is just amazing, [I’m] really happy and proud of this team,” Haggerty said after the game.
For Nebraska it was a heartbreaking moment, as they were beaten for the third time this year by Wisconsin, but for head coach John Cook and the Cornhuskers this is far from the end, as there are no seniors on the team.
For Wisconsin, their experience against Nebraska played a big role in the victory tonight.
“I think it's just two teams that know each other really well. We knew going into this match what they are going to try to do offensively and that they are going to try to tee off on our blockers,” Clark said.
For Wisconsin the focus is on enjoying the moment and looking forward to next week for now.
“Our message with them going out was simple – have fun, enjoy, and sometimes you can be wound so tight that you forget that. To be able to play in front of over 7,000 fans that are on their feet most of the night and for the opportunity to go to the final four,” coach Sheffield said.
Wisconsin will play No. 1 Baylor on Dec. 19 in Pittsburg for the first round of the Final Four, first serve is at 6 p.m..