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Friday, April 19, 2024
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Wisconsin improves conference standing after two wins against Michigan rivals

Wisconsin is now the second place team in the conference after two more wins over the weekend. The Badgers bested Michigan State (3-0) in Madison Friday night and then traveled to Michigan on Sunday to win (3-1) their sixth away game.

On Friday, Wisconsin’s strong offense and impenetrable defense guided them to a win over Michigan State. Key defensive player Gulce Guctekin led Wisconsin with 11 digs and also contributed on offense with a service ace. 

Wisconsin swept Michigan State, 25-22, 25-16 and 25-15. For the first time this season, all 17 Badgers in uniform played. Senior Gabby McCaa made her debut, playing one set. Wisconsin’s balanced team effort contributed to their dominant win. 

“We're all helping together, it's all collective work. One person's success is because of other people,” Danielle Hart said after the game. 

Michigan State kept the first set close as they only had one error to go with 12 kills. The game swung back and forth – either team only ever led by one point up until the set was tied at 15. Wisconsin pulled ahead 20-17, then Michigan State capitalized on a couple of Badger errors to make the score 21-20. 

With the help of two kills by Julia Orzol and a service ace from Caroline Crawford, the Badgers brought their point total to 24. The Spartans continued to fight until Orzol managed a kill with an assist from MJ Hammill to win the set 25-22.

Both teams ended the first set with a .400 hitting percentage, but the Badgers had more opportunities to put the ball away as they tallied 18 kills off 35 total attempts. In the second set, Wisconsin held Michigan State to a negative hitting percentage of .069. The Spartans had two more errors (nine) than kills (seven). 

Michigan State started the second set off strong with an early 6-3 lead. Wisconsin was able to tie the game at nine, and then they found their stride. With the set tied at 11, the Badgers went on a four point win streak – including two kills, one block and one Spartan error. Two points later, Wisconsin had an impressive seven point streak to make the game 22-13. In this stretch of time, these seven points included two kills, three blocks and two Spartan errors. A Sarah Franklin kill ended the second set. 

The fifth-ranked team took the last set with a dominating 25-15 win. Wisconsin held Michigan State to a negative hitting percentage again in the third set and also kept them at an overall match hitting percentage of .093. 

The Badgers controlled the entire last set, starting off by taking the first six of seven points. Devyn Robinson had back-to-back kills extending Wisconsin’s lead 8-3. Up 17-12, Wisconsin went on a five point streak and then ended the set in three consecutive points – a kill by Sarah Franklin, attack error by Michigan State and a service ace by Gulce Guctekin. 

Wisconsin recorded 10 blocks in the match – their 10th match this season with double-digit blocks, led by Caroline Crawford with a match-high eight blocks. The Badgers’ stellar offense propelled them to their seventh consecutive win. They recorded four service aces and Julia Orzol led the team with 13 kills, while Izzy Ashburn had 21 helpers.

After the game, Coach Kelly Sheffield remarked, "Sometimes it just takes time for blockers to get in a rhythm with the offense that is going on on the other side and I thought we did that”. 

Then, on Sunday, Wisconsin faced No. 25 Michigan in Ann Arbor, after recently beating them 3-1 in Madison

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The Badgers had a dominating hitting performance, taking the win in four sets 22-25, 25-18, 25-22 and 25-19. Wisconsin’s defense also held strong, recording 13 blocks – their seventh straight match with 10-plus blocks. Caroline Crawford and Danielle Hart led the team with six blocks a piece. Continuing to outshine their opponents behind the service line, Wisconsin managed seven service aces compared to Michigan’s three. 

Heading into the first set, both teams remained consistent with very few errors. In fact the first 11 of 12 points won were kills. Tied at nine, the Badgers went on a four point streak capitalizing off the Wolverines’ service error and ball handling error. Wisconsin held the lead 19-13 with help from Devyn Robinson and Hart – who both tallied two more kills. 

The Wolverines then began to claw their way back into the game, taking the next three points because of the Badgers’ service error and two attack errors. Michigan, down 17-21, came back to tie the game with four consecutive kills – the final two coming from May Pertofsky. 

Michigan finished the final set with four more consecutive kills. All four kills came from Jess Mruzik, who led her team with 16 total. The home team managed a match-high 20 kills in the first set with only three errors, making their hitting percentage .362.

In the second set, the Badgers had a match-high .414 hitting percentage while holding the Wolverines to a .107 hitting percentage. 

After Wisconsin took an early 6-3 lead, Michigan won six points in a row and held the lead until the set became tied at 12. Wisconsin took the final 13 of 19 points in the second set, their biggest lead being seven. 

Robinson and Franklin led their team with four kills a piece in the second set, while Robinson had a match-high 17 kills and zero errors along with four blocks, two digs and one assist.

Wisconsin tied the match at 1-1 as they headed into the third set. Both teams began to feel the pressure as they averaged a .170 hitting percentage. Most of the points won at the beginning of the set consisted of service errors and attack errors.

The Wolverines went on a six of eight point streak to increase their lead to 17-13. However, the Badgers rallied back with five consecutive points of their own to take the lead 18-17. Gulce Guctekin had two service aces during this critical time in the set. Her team totaled four service aces in this set out of their total seven in the match.

Both teams went back and forth until Michigan earned back-to-back points to take a brief 22-21 lead. Wisconsin countered with four points of their own to win the set 25-22. The Wolverines had three of their seven errors occur in these final set points. A service error and an attack error by Mruzik allowed the Badgers to forge ahead and finish the set with a block and a kill from Robinson. 

The fifth ranked team kept their momentum up in the fourth set and held the lead for the majority of the final set. Wisconsin shortly pulled away from Michigan after the set was tied at 10. Michigan rallied back to tie the score at 15, but Wisconsin pulled ahead again and kept their lead to take the fourth and final set, 25-19.

The Badgers held an impressive .600 hitting percentage in the fourth set, which included 16 kills and one error. 

Junior Jade Demps came off the bench for the last two sets and totaled seven kills, hitting .462 and adding three blocks and one dig. Demps and Robinson combined for 10 of the team's 16 kills in the final set, each with five kills a piece. 

Guctekin recorded two service aces and six assists, along with a match-high 22 digs. Anna Smrek also led all players with a .700 clip. 

Wisconsin’s head coach Kelly Sheffield even commented, “Both of our right sides were dominant. [Robinson] had .680 and Anna Smrek had .700 with no hitting errors which is a positive. It's a really good connection with our setters and our right side and our middles.’”

Wisconsin improves to 9-1 in the Big Ten and 15-3 overall, now with an eight game win streak. On Wednesday they travel back home to the UW Field House to take on No. 3 Nebraska at 8 p.m.

Nebraska holds the first place spot in the Big Ten with an undefeated conference record (10-0), along with a near-perfect overall record (18-1). Fifteen of their total 18 wins have been 3-0 sweeps. They also hold a 10 game win streak. 

The last time these two teams faced each other was in the NCAA championships in 2021, where Wisconsin won in five sets. This will be a match you do not want to miss. 

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