The Badgers (8-0) remain the No. 1 ranked team as they head to Michigan State this weekend to play in back to back matches against the Spartans (2-4) Saturday and Sunday afternoon in the Jenison Field House.
Last weekend the Badgers swept Indiana two nights in a row. On night one, the Badgers improved throughout the three sets, reducing their 17 errors in the first set down to seven in the second and only six in the third. This momentum continued into night two, and the Badgers finished with their highest hitting percentage of the season.
Despite their losing record, head coach Kelly Sheffield has noted that Michigan State has had several close matches this season and has shown continuous improvement.
“You can tell this is a team that’s going to continue to get better as they get more comfortable,” said Sheffield. “You know, they've got some young kids that are playing some pretty prominent parts. They seem like they’re starting to figure some things out every week.”
One of the “young kids” Sheffield mentioned who is playing a prominent role for the Spartans is freshman Sarah Franklin, who was named the Big Ten Freshman Player of the Week in their matchup against Maryland last weekend. The outside hitter has more hitting attempts than the next three players on her team combined.
Michigan State is not the only team that has shown improvement throughout the season. The Big Ten teams are roughly one-third of the way through this unconventional season, and all seem to be getting the hang of the new protocols and back-to-back game schedules.
Overall, Coach Sheffield commented that he has enjoyed watching Big Ten matchups this season and is impressed — but not surprised by — the level of talent.
The Badgers themselves are constantly finding ways to improve their game, despite their No. 1 ranking. “I don’t remember ever having a practice environment that is as competitive as we are right now,” said Sheffield.
While some might have expected the late start to the Big Ten’s volleyball season to be a stressful and chaotic experience, senior outside hitter Grace Loberg thinks it was beneficial for the Badgers to have extra practice time in the fall.
“We had a lot of extra time this fall to really like fine tune our game coming into the season,” Loberg said. “I also think it was so beneficial for our team just because we were able to get so close with all of the incoming freshmen.”
So far, this extra practice time has seemed to pay off for the Badgers, as they head into Saturday afternoons match against the Spartans averaging 14.2 kills, 12.8 assists, and 13.0 digs per set.
The Badgers will face the Spartans at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday in East Lansing. Saturday's game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network while Sunday's will be on BTN+.