Three matches in, and the Badgers have yet to give away a single set.
No. 1 Wisconsin (3-0) beat Illinois (2-1) in three sets (25-20, 30-18, 25-9) Friday afternoon in their first away match of the season.
Wisconsin Head Coach Kelley Sheffield took a different approach to tonight’s lineup, giving both middle blocker Danielle Hart and outside hitter/defensive specialist Deahna Kraft plenty of time on the floor. This match marked Hart and Kraft’s first starts this season, Kraft’s first career start with the Badgers and outsider hitter Jade Demps’ first time starting in her collegiate career.
“We’re really not interested in leaving anybody behind,” Sheffield said. “If we can continue to keep everybody out there and getting game experiences, that’s what we’re shooting for. Those guys have earned the right to get out there with how they've been playing.”
The Badgers took the first set handily with the help of consistent players like middle blocker Dana Rettke, who put away 5 kills in the first set and 14 total. Setter Sydney Hilley was a consistent asset for the Badgers, with 39 total assists this evening. Hart also put in work in the first set, putting away four kills and finishing the set with a hitting percentage of .800.
The first part of the second set was a losing game, as the Badgers and Illini traded service and attack errors to help the other stay in the match. Both teams had low hitting percentages throughout much of the second set. As both teams turned up the heat near the end of the set, the Illini stood their ground, trailing the Badgers closely until Wisconsin pulled away with a 30-28 victory to go ahead 2-0.
Hart came in strong again in the second set, putting away four additional kills and keeping her hitting percentage at .800. Rettke also put in four kills, finishing the set with an average of .471.
Whatever was holding the Badgers back in the second set they were able to shrug off for the third. The fighter’s mentality’ that Hilley said to expect in every match came into play as the Badgers put away kill after kill to take the final set 25-9. The Badgers finished the match like they started it, with a kill from Rettke.
“I think in the third set we just kind of started putting on the gas pedal and playing to our highest potential,” Kraft said. “That's when we're the best, that's our clean volleyball and we showed it.”
Despite a changed lineup the Badgers were able to clock their third sweep of the season, finishing the match with a hitting percentage of .371 to the Illini’s .168.
“It's so amazing having such a deep team and it honestly allows you to play more freely because you know that you've got a bunch of girls that have your back if anything happens,” Kraft said. “That was just a testament tonight of how deep we are and how everyone's so mentally focused and ready to go in when they're called on.”
Wisconsin will play Illinois again on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Huff Hall in Urbana-Champaign, Il as they go for back-to-back series sweeps to open up the 2021 season.