On an afternoon of celebration where they raised the 2022 Big Ten Championship banner, the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers’ day went from euphoric to nerve-wrecking in a pulsating match against No. 24 Tennessee.
The match got progressively more difficult for the Badgers as it went along. They won the first set 25-16, but the second set was more arduous. It was all tied at 22 points before a kill from Anna Smrek gave Wisconsin what at the time seemed like a match-sealing 2-0 lead. Tennessee roared back though, claiming the third set 25-18 and staving off a couple Wisconsin rallies to take the fourth set 25-20.
The Badgers led 6-1 in the fifth set before the pesky Lady Volunteers tied the set at 10 points apiece. A kill by Carter Booth restored the Badgers’ lead for just a moment as Wisconsin went up 12-10 on the following play, but a review overturned the point and tied the game at 11 points. Then, an attack error by Booth gave Tennessee a 12-11 advantage, flooding the raucous University of Wisconsin Field House with palpable nervous energy.
Badger veterans then stepped up and delivered when they were needed most. First, senior stalwart Devyn Robinson delivered a crucial kill to knot the game up once again at 12 points. Then, a service ace from Julia Orzol restored Wisconsin’s lead and allowed the Badger faithful to take a quick breath.
Wisconsin served for the match point but were denied by a kill from Tennessee’s Morgahn Fingall. Staring down another tie game, Sarah Franklin came to the rescue with a clutch kill to seal the 3-2 win for the Badgers.
“It was a battle. At the end, I loved the mentality we came out with,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We took our foot off the gas for a little bit, [but] the fact that we were able to get going in the fifth is a real credit because, in our sport, that’s hard to do.”
Franklin was Wisconsin's taliswoman yet again with 23 kills. Booth played a big role as well by recording eight kills and adding eight blocks. Wisconsin had a .306 hitting percentage, but Tenneesse backed themselves up with 12 service aces.
The Badgers — who were anointed as the No. 1 team at the beginning of the week — survived their second scare in a few days after coming off a similar 3-2 victory against No. 21 Arkansas in Fayetteville. But Sunday’s match was at home, and Franklin said it made a difference in willing the Badgers to a victory.
“There’s nothing like the Field House,” Franklin said. “I love when everyone’s on their feet and rooting for you because it gets the other team and you can just feed off the energy really easily.”
The Badgers move to 5-0 on the season with four ranked wins to their name. Wisconsin will return to action Thursday night against Arizona back at the UW Field House.