The No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers traveled down to Gainesville, Florida, and earned a 3-2 win against the No. 3 Florida Gators in what proved to be their most pulsating victory yet.
Wisconsin has faced plenty of tests this season, but they have not pushed as hard as they did Sunday afternoon. The Gators, who defeated Wisconsin in another five-set thriller last year at the Kohl Center, had the Badgers on the ropes quickly. The first set was initially close with the scoreboard showing a tie of 10-10. Florida took the lead on the next point and never looked back. They secured the first set 25-15, condemning the Badgers to a sort of lopsided defeat they are not used to seeing.
The second set was more closely contested. Wisconsin trailed 23-22 but handed the second game to the Gators courtesy of two attack errors. Facing a 2-0 hole, Wisconsin was dangerously close to suffering their first loss of the season.
Similar to previous games against SEC opponents Arkansas and Tennessee, the Badgers had a response.
Determined to at least avoid a sweep, Wisconsin started the third set with a commanding 14-4 advantage. Florida cut the lead to three, but it was too late as Wisconsin reached match point and won the third set with a kill from Anna Smrek, who ended with a team-high 16 kills.
The fourth set was more competitive, and the Badgers reached match point with the score reading 24-20. A service error from CC Crawford and an error from Smrek closed the gap to 24-22. However, Smrek immediately made up for her mistake and registered another set-ending kill to bring the Badgers into a winner-take-all fifth set.
Wisconsin trailed 10-8 in the fifth set, but their championship mettle kicked in. The Badgers went on a 5-0 run to take a 13-10 lead. Another kill from Smrek would later give Wisconsin a 14-11 lead, setting up match point. The Gators used a kill and an ace to make Badger fans nervous, but the Badgers triumphed for a reverse sweep comeback.
Inevitably, Smrek was there once again with the clutch kill to end the set and match, giving Wisconsin arguably their most exciting win to date this season. The Badgers came back from 0-2 for the first time since 2018 and avenged last season’s loss to the Gators, who they were 1-6 against all-time before today.
Wisconsin now has five ranked wins to their credit before Big Ten play starts this week.
Coach Kelly Sheffield was pleased with his team’s resilience, saying after the game, “We gotta keep getting better. It's an important win, on the road. Being able to come in and [the] whole place is against you. Battling back when you're not playing well and playing a cleaner version of the game,” he said after Saturday’s match. “Defensively, they are really good. Mentally they can really get to you. Real credit to our players. We battled and we fought. Most of the match was played in the mud.”
The Badgers had a tough slate of non-conference games, but the real gauntlet begins with the start of their Big Ten schedule. They will kick off the conference season with a trip to Evanston to face Northwestern on Friday night at 7 p.m.