Wisconsin volleyball stepped foot in the Kohl Center for the first time in 24 years, taking on No. 16 Florida. The Badgers shattered the previous record for largest attendance in a regular season match with a sold out arena holding 16,833 people. Unfortunately Wisconsin was not able to pull out the win, falling 2-3 to the Gators.
Florida came on the court determined to take down the 2021 National Champions. The Gators controlled the first set taking down the Badgers 25-21. The team totaled 14 kills with a .257 hitting percentage, compared to Wisconsin's 12 kills, nine errors and a hitting percentage of .086. Wisconsin was unable to get within reach of Florida due to their many unforced errors.
Wisconsin fell to a .03 hitting percentage in the second set, tallying nine kills with eight attack errors. The No. 4 ranked team missed easy hits, mostly by Sarah Franklin and Julia Orzol, while Florida used every Wisconsin error to their advantage, not wasting any opportunities.
Florida totaled 14 kills in the second set, with the help of Merritt Beason who had five. The Badgers fell behind early in this set and were quickly down 5-12. They managed to get within three points late in the set, but the Gators pulled ahead finishing the set 25-18.
With the support of the nearly-17,000 person crowd at the Kohl Center, the Wisconsin Badgers were able to take the third set in a nail biter, 28-26. The teams started off by going back and forth until Florida went on an eight point run, pulling ahead 10-5. In their run, they tallied five kills — three from Beason and two from Gabbi Essix. Later on in the third set, Wisconsin dug themselves into a hole, down 13-19 but needing to win the set. With the help from a few key players, the Badgers were able to crawl their way back.
Wisconsin outscored Florida 15-7 in the final 22 points of the third set. Anna Smrek totaled three kills of Wisconsin’s six and three blocks of Wisconsin’s six. Caroline Crawford also had four blocks and led both teams with a total of ten blocks in the match. Wisconsin was also assisted by Florida’s 13 errors, eight attack errors of which were in the final 22 points of the set. Florida had a .023 hitting percentage, while Wisconsin increased to a .162 hitting percentage.
In the first two and a half sets, the Badgers were in shambles. They were not connecting with each other, high in errors and playing tense. Late in the third set and through the fourth, Wisconsin looked like a national championship team. Players clicked with each other and got in a rhythm that tipped Florida off balance.
The Badgers had the crowd behind them heading into the fourth set, dominating the play. They led 10-2 early and pulled ahead by the end to win 25-13. Wisconsin forced Florida’s hitting percentage down to -.086, while Wisconsin reached a .182 hitting percentage. Jade Demps came up big in this set for the Badgers. The junior from North Carolina put up three kills and one ace, combined with many errors from the Gators which allowed the Badgers some breathing room in the fourth set.
The match was tied 2-2, so we head to the fifth set. The fifth set is won with only 15 points, so every score matters. Wisconsin opened the set looking strong at their home court with the support of the record-breaking crowd. They led 8-5, but with a couple blocks and a couple aces, Florida rose up 9-8. Danielle Hart, one of Wisconsin’s middle blockers, managed two kills that tied the game at 10. It went back and forth until Florida was able to close it out 15-13.
In this fifth set, Wisconsin tallied six errors while Florida only had one. Florida was able to stay consistent and calm throughout the entire match to give them the upset over the No. 4 ranked team in the nation.
Wisconsin fell to 5-2 while Florida improved to 8-2.
While the ending was not the outcome Wisconsin fans wanted, there still were important takeaways from the game. Gulce Guctekin put up a career-best seven assists as a freshman. Caroline Crawford tied her career high with 10 blocks, and Liz Gregorski tied her career best with two digs. On top of Wisconsin setting a regular-season NCAA attendance record of 16,833 fans, their attendance was also the 15th largest ever to watch a college volleyball match.
At the end of the match, Coach Kelly Sheffield said, “What a special environment this was. It is a night some point down the road, this will be a night our players will never forget.” Followed by Caroline Crawford, who was grateful for the environment at the Kohl Center; “just the energy was absolutely awesome and everyone was on their feet and loud and really got into the game and it was really cool to feel that."
After facing Rhode Island at home on Sunday, the Badgers will begin their conference schedule. The Northwestern Wildcats will travel to the Field House on Friday to face the Badgers at 7 p.m.