Unranked Illinois (2-2) put the first blemish on No. 1 Wisconsin’s (4-0) record, pushing them to 4 sets on Saturday 27-25, 25-20, 21-25, 25-12. In their toughest match of the season so far, the Badgers were able to pull together a win by dominating the final set.
Wisconsin started off hot, with senior setter Sydney Hilley serving until her team was up 5-0. The Illini defense helped their team make a comeback, and by the end of that first set it was a race to the finish line. The teams were tied at 22-22, 24-24 and 25-25.
Several challenges resulted in reversed calls throughout the match. This included a point reversal in the first set on what could have been the winning point for the Illini.
The Badger’s had a difficult time defending Illinois’ senior outside hitter Megan Cooney, who racked up 18 kills and had a hitting percentage of .366 (18 kills-3 errors-41 attempts). The Illini also served well, forcing the Badgers back row to move around and ending the night with seven service aces to Wisconsin’s five.
Seniors Grace Loberg and Molly Haggerty both started today, after getting last night off as Coach Sheffield showed off the depth of his bench by starting freshmen Jade Demps and Deahna Kraft. After last night’s match, Sheffield assured us that their night off had nothing to do with anything negative he saw in practice and everything to do with giving new players game experience.
Loberg and Haggerty proved him right by being two of three players to record double digit kills for the Badgers today. Overall, the Badgers hit 0.333 (55-14-123) and kept the Illini to 0.202 (48-22-129).
Senior Dana Rettke was the third player to record double digit kills, with five of the ten earned in the fourth set. By significantly improving her hitting percentage in that final set, Rettke helped her team secure a victory.
The Badger’s ability to hold Illinois to just 12 points in the final set exemplifies the team’s well-roundedness and determination on the court. Coach Sheffield commented on his team’s mental toughness going into that last set. “What I really liked about it is there was a lot of toughness involved in this,” he said. “Almost everybody had a part of their game that they weren’t playing particularly well.”
Sheffield called this team a “work in progress” and noted that there were things they definitely had to work on in the gym this week. One area the Badgers could clean up is their serving. The team lost eleven points due to service errors today.
It’s interesting to keep in mind that this was the first back-to-back matchup Wisconsin has played on the road this season. Typically, being on the road would mean traveling to a different location after Friday’s match to play a new team on Saturday. This year’s schedule, which minimizes traveling, allows the Badgers more time to recover, watch film and readjust to teams they face away from home.
Next week, the team returns to the Wisconsin Field House to face Rutgers (1-3), who split their series with Indiana this weekend.