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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Wisconsin volleyball tallies two more wins in nail-biting matches against Arkansas

The Badgers faced off against the Razorbacks in nerve-wracking matches to take the back-to-back wins.

Wisconsin women’s volleyball was truly on the road for the first time in the young 2023 season, and they faced their stiffest test so far in a narrow win over the No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville. 

The Badgers, who came off two relatively brisk wins at the Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge and entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation, were pushed to the brink against the Razorbacks. They were taken to five sets and prevailed 15-13 in the final set to take the match 3-2. 

The Badgers faced their first true deficit of the season after losing the first set 25-21. The first set was tightly contested throughout, setting the tone for the whole match. Wisconsin trailed closely, 22-21, before Arkansas took the next three points to wrap up their first set victory.

The Razorbacks fed off their momentum and continued strong play into the second set, taking a lead as large as 13-8. But the Badgers dug themselves out of the hole with a 6-0 run capped off by two kills from junior middle blocker Anna Smrek to give Wisconsin a 17-14 lead. They would keep the lead and take the second set 25-20 to even the match at one set apiece. 

The third set was just as fiery. The Badgers once again found themselves in a hotly contested battle after Arkansas raced out to a 14-7 advantage, but Wisconsin went on a 5-0 run to close the gap to 14-12.

The Razorbacks held their lead all the way up to match point, where they were up 24-19. Wisconsin showed their championship mettle in response and rattled off seven straight points — including three kills from senior middle blocker Devyn Robinson — to edge Arkansas 26-24 in an enthralling third set. 

Despite dropping two sets in a row, Arkansas did not back down and kept up the pressure on Wisconsin in the fourth set. After tying the penultimate set at five, the Razorbacks grabbed control of the game to win 25-22, setting up a dramatic fifth and final set. 

Arkansas pushed Wisconsin to the brink with an early 13-12 lead in the fifth set. The Badgers responded with a 3-0 run, including kills from senior stars Robinson and Sarah Franklin, to avoid an early season upset and prevail 3-2. 

Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield complimented his team’s gritty road win in a press conference after Wednesday’s match."We spent most of the match behind in each set, just trying to grind it and fight. That's a really, really good team, that's a really well-coached team,” Sheffield said, referring to Arkansas. “We got quite a few blocks, but it was a real struggle with their speed, their size and their craftiness." 

Robinson led Wisconsin with a career-high 21 kills and added nine blocks. Smrek and Franklin both chipped in 13 and 12 kills, respectively, while Minnesota transfer Carter Booth made her mark with 12 kills and nine blocks. 

Badgers sweep Arkansas in second match

The Badgers needed the full five sets to take down Arkansas in a nail biter on Wednesday night, but they did it in much less stressful fashion on Thursday to add two more ranked wins to their resúme before heading back to Madison. 

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The first set of Thursday’s contest was a carryover of Wednesday’s match, as the two teams went back and forth and exchanged leads. The Razorbacks had a 19-17 advantage, but much like they did Wednesday, the Badgers used a late run to wrestle the lead back. Wisconsin went on a 5-0 run to seal the lead for good before taking the first set 25-22, courtesy of a kill from Temi Thomas. 

The second set saw the Badgers put together a performance fans of the number one team in the nation are more familiar with. Wisconsin trailed briefly at 5-4 and 6-4 but took back control of the lead and never looked back. They held leads as large as nine before back-to-back kills from Booth and the dagger from Robinson sealed the second set 25-16 in favor of Bucky. 

Arkansas, who were in a daunting 0-2 hole, fought hard at the beginning of the third set to tie the game at nine. Wisconsin responded with a 13-10 lead before finishing off the pesky Razorbacks with a 6-0 run — including four straight attack errors by Arkansas — to take a comfortable 19-10 lead. The Razorbacks offered brief resistance, but the outcome was never really in doubt as Wisconsin finished with a 25-17 victory to complete the match sweep. 

Kelly saw a "massive difference” between Thursday’s match and the suspenseful first match Wednesday.t

“Last night, it was a lot of waiting for the ball to come to us,” Sheffield told reporters after Thursday’s match. “Tonight, we were going and pursuing and getting our transition on.” 

Seniors Sarah Franklin and Robinson set the tone as usual for the Badgers, notching 12 and 11 kills, respectively. 

Junior Anna Smrek had another strong game, posting 10 kills and four blocks. Senior MJ Hammill chipped in her eighth career double-double with 21 assists and 12 digs. 

The Badgers went on the road for the first time this season and came away with two wins. They will make their long-awaited return to the UW Field House on Sunday afternoon for their regular season home opener against No. 24 Tennessee. 

The 2022 Big Ten Championship Banner reveal ceremony will also take place during pregame Sunday. 

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