On Friday night, Wisconsin hosted Northwestern for the Big Ten Conference opener at the UW Field House. Northwestern entered Friday’s game 11-1 facing the No. 6 national ranked Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin is coming off of a relatively easy win against Rhode Island from the previous weekend — taking all three sets. The Badgers looked to begin another win streak.
The two teams went back and forth at the beginning until Wisconsin went on a four point streak with three kills and one block. Northwestern kept themselves close behind but were never able to take the lead. The Badgers tallied 15 kills with only five errors, achieving a .333 hitting percentage while the Wildcats only managed to hit .192 percent of their total attempts. The Badgers took the first set 25-18.
Northwestern started the second set off strong. They took the lead early 9-5, which included four consecutive Wildcat blocks. Liz Gregorski put down the first service ace of the game, putting Wisconsin down by one. The Badgers went down by three late in the set but fought their way back. They outscored Northwestern 17-4 in the remainder of the second set, including three aces. Two aces came from MJ Hammill and one by Caroline Crawford.
Wisconsin took the second set 25-19 while holding Northwestern to an impressive zero percent hitting total.
Keeping that momentum in the third set, Wisconsin won 25-22. This was the tightest set but Wisconsin still managed to maintain control the entire time.
The Badger team contributed this to their efforts in practice. After the match, Wisconsin Head Coach Kelly Sheffield reflected on how well his team handled the high intensity pace of Northwestern.
“One of the things that Northwestern does very well that makes it very challenging is how fast they’re running the tempo sets out to their left sides,” Sheffield said. “It’s really fast and it’s been something that we worked on throughout the week.”
The most impressive outcome of the game was Wisconsin shutting down Northwestern’s star player Temi Thomas-Ailara. She was named Big Ten Player of the Week, averaging 4.75 kills per set and hitting .333 in her last three matches.
Against UW, she only managed 11 kills with six errors and totaled a .161 hitting percentage. Alongside the Wildcats’ other outside hitter Hanna Lesiak, the teammates combined for 16 kills and 16 errors to hit .000.
Later in the weekend, the Wisconsin team traveled to Minnesota to play the Golden Gophers, who were just swept by No. 11 Purdue in their conference opener. Minnesota needed this win to salvage their opening weekend at home. For the first time since 2018, Wisconsin fell to Minnesota, losing 0-3.
Both teams played fairly consistently in the first set, each hitting about .15 percent. The set became tied at 20-20, until Minnesota took five of the final six points of the set, giving them the win, 25-21. Sarah Franklin had a service error that gave the Gophers set point, and Minnesota capitalized.
Minnesota continued to capitalize on Wisconsin’s errors in the second set. The Golden Gophers held the lead after the teams were tied at seven to eventually win the set 25-16. They managed to hold a .400 hitting percent with 16 kills and only four errors.
In the third set, Wisconsin battled to force a fourth set and served for set point four times. Sarah Franklin put up a career-high five service aces, including three in a row in the third set. She also led the team with 14 kills. The Badgers even led 20-15, but slowly let Minnesota back in the game, and ultimately could not convert for the win. Minnesota won the last three points to take the final set 29-27.
While Wisconsin put up 19 kills and had a .289 hitting percentage, their errors are what prevented them from winning this set. In comparison, the Gophers totaled 18 kills but only made two errors, hitting close to .500 percent.
“We started out with a lot of errors. Serving-wise, we gave them 17 points in the first set. We were right there even with all those errors,” but after the game Sheffield said he noticed his team was “a little bit anxious and a little bit stressed."
Wisconsin struggled with their serves this match. Entering the game, they averaged 9.6 service errors per game throughout their first nine games. However, against Minnesota, they totaled 11 service errors. They were also unable to stop the Gopher’s top outside hitter Taylor Landfair, who ranks second in the Big Ten in kills. This match she had a team-high 17 kills against the Badgers.
Danielle Hart, UW’s middle blocker, noted they were unable to make adjustments once Landfair found her shot.
Wisconsin is now 7-3 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten. They travel back to the UW Field House for another tough game on Friday, taking on No. 9 Penn State (12-1, 1-1). The Badgers will continue Big Ten play, hoping to rebound after an inconsistent first weekend.