The undefeated, No. 1 ranked Wisconsin Badgers (4-0) will face off in back-to-back matches against the unranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-3) at the Wisconsin Field House this Friday and Saturday. To recap both teams' seasons thus far, Wisconsin has swept Purdue (2-2) and Illinois (2-2), while Rutgers was defeated by Northwestern (2-0) and split their series with Indiana (1-3).
This weekend's match up features two of the best setters in the conference. In the first two weeks of the Big Ten volleyball season, both Wisconsin and Rutgers have been home to the Big Ten Setter of the Week.
Rutgers’ junior Inna Balyko was named Big Ten Setter of the Week on Feb. 1 after becoming the seventh Scarlet Knight to complete the 2,000 career assists. Wisconsin’s senior setter, Sidney Hilley, was awarded the title the week prior, and is currently averaging an impressive 11.54 assists per set to Balyko’s 7.93.
The Scarlet Knights have a new head coach this season, Caitlin Schweihofer, who UW Head Coach Kelly Sheffield expects to bring a new energy to Rutgers’ team.
While Rutgers may benefit from Schweihofer bringing a new energy, Scheffield accredits his program’s success to the experience of his surrounding staff.
“I have good people around me,” Sheffield said, “We’ve got a really good staff around who have been together year after year.”
Sheffield emphasized that he wasn’t just complimenting his assistant coaches, but also the strength coach, athletic trainers and recruiters. He noted that the continuity of the staff has been especially important in a year like this, which has held so much uncertainty.
When asked about his team’s performance last week, Sheffield commented that he was proud of how his team responded to losing their first set of the season.
“This past weekend we continued to learn quite a bit about ourselves,” he said. “We got pushed and challenged and I liked how we responded after we lost game three on Saturday.”
So far this season, the Badgers have kept their attacking errors to a minimum and are playing smart offensively. Despite the fact that senior Lauren Barnes was named this week’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week with a career high 20 digs on Saturday, the team aims to get better defensively as a whole and improve their serving.
It will be interesting to see who makes the starting rosters this week after Coach Sheffield switched things up against Illinois, to show off the depth of his bench. Four different left side hitters started for the Badgers this last weekend. While this is uncommon, Sheffield attributes his decision to the high level of play he’s seen in practice.
The Badgers will attempt to maintain this high level of play and continue their winning streak Friday night at 6:00 p.m. and Saturday night at 4:00 p.m.