The No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers women’s volleyball team faced one of their stiffest tests of the season Wednesday night from an unlikely source: the 2-6 Marquette Eagles.
At the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee — home to the Milwaukee Bucks — the Badgers were pushed to their limit but settled down after a turbulent first three sets to win the match 3-1.
The Badgers and the Golden Eagles played for a crowd of 17,037 at Fiserv Forum, the largest crowd ever for a regular season indoor volleyball match. It also broke the attendance record for all women’s sporting events in Wisconsin. The Badgers previously set both records last year at the Kohl Center against Florida with 16,833 fans.
Marquette came into the match with four straight losses but was seemingly fired up by the big crowd and their in-state rival Badgers lining up on the other side of the net.
The first set was fiercely competitive. The game was a back-and-forth affair as Marquette opened a 21-17 lead, the first of many times they had Wisconsin on the ropes Wednesday. The Badgers rallied to tie the set at 22 before pushing it to a 24-point tie, meaning more than 25 points would be needed to decide the match — a rarity for Wisconsin this year. The Badgers took one-point leads, but the Golden Eagles kept tying the set until Wisconsin finally broke through with a 28-26 win courtesy of a kill from Carter Booth and an attack error from Marquette’s Aubrey Hamilton.
Anyone who thought that set would be an anomaly would be quickly proven wrong. Marquette raced out to a 15-5 lead, flustering the Badgers and putting them in a hole they hadn’t faced in any set all season. The Badgers engineered a furious comeback to trim the lead to 21-19, but even the top-ranked team in the nation couldn’t overcome the daunting deficit.
The Golden Eagles would go on to win the set 25-21, handing Wisconsin its first set loss since a thrilling 3-2 victory over Tennessee on Sept. 3.
The third set was again difficult for the Badgers, who stared down a 24-21 deficit at Marquette’s set point. The Badgers went on a 5-0 run to take the match, with kills from CC Crawford, Anna Smrek, Sarah Franklin and two Marquette attack errors rescuing Wisconsin from being down 2-1 in sets.
The fourth set was a return to normalcy for the dominant Badgers. After being tied at nine, Wisconsin refused to relinquish the lead and went on to win 25-18 to claim the match in four sets.
On top of the attendance records, Wednesday’s match was a monumental night for a few Badgers. Sarah Franklin eclipsed 1,000 career kills as she once again led her team with 15 of them. Graduate student Izzy Ashburn set the Wisconsin record for career service aces with 167. Julia Orzol joined the party with 23 digs, a career high for the junior.
Coach Kelly Sheffield was impressed with his team’s resolve and with the environment in Milwaukee.
“We made great charges down the stretch of each of set one, set two and set three, and won two of those. Our team did not give up on themselves in those moments,” Sheffield said. “We were playing from behind all three of those first sets. Then, I thought our offense got going the latter part of set three and into set four. Our hitters were working harder and Marquette was forcing us to do that. To play in front of this kind of crowd and environment was great.”
No. 1 Wisconsin is now 8-0 on the year and about to enter Big Ten play. However, the Badgers will face their biggest test of the season before that point when they travel down south to face No. 3 Florida on Sunday in a rematch with the Gators, who beat them at the Kohl Center last September.