The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 3-1 Thursday night at the UW Field House to punch another ticket to the Elite Eight.
Anticipation was high going into this match, given the Nittany Lions handed Wisconsin one of their three losses this season back in November. Additionally, these two teams matched up in the Sweet 16 last year.
The Badgers got off to a blazing start, setting an early tone with a 21-8 lead. Penn State could not overcome the Badger blitz, and Wisconsin won the first set handily, 25-11.
But Penn State, who entered the match 23-8, was not ready to leave Madison without a fight. The Nittany Lions went back and forth with the Badgers in the second set, but Wisconsin had match point at 24-23 after a kill from Devyn Robinson.
Penn State tied it up with a kill from Jess Mruzik, and the two teams were locked in a pulsating end of the set. The teams continued trading leads and chances to close out the set until the score tied at 28. The Nittany Lions managed to snatch the last two points to even the match and create intrigue.
The third set started like the second, with the Badgers holding a narrow 8-7 lead. Then, their championship mettle kicked in.
Wisconsin grabbed the next 12 points to open up a 20-7 advantage. Penn State was unable to make up for such a massive gulf, and Wisconsin reclaimed the match lead with a 25-12 victory in the third set.
The fourth set was nearly a carbon copy of the third, with Wisconsin leading 8-7 before running off with the lead. The Badgers were determined to end the Nittany Lions’ stay in Madison and used a 10-0 run to go up 18-7, effectively putting the match out of reach.
Penn State cut the lead to 22-16. But the Badgers didn’t let the match get any closer and won 25-18, avenging their loss to Penn State and securing a spot in the Elite Eight.
The Badgers’ attack was powered by regulars Sarah Franklin with 15 kills, Temi-Thomas Ailara with 11 kills and Devyn Robinson with 10 kills. CC Crawford chipped in with 10 blocks, and Julia Orzol added 16 digs.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield was pleased with his team’s performance against a Penn State squad he consistently speaks highly of.
"I thought the mentality of our team throughout the rally was really, really strong,” Sheffield said. “We're accelerating, we're getting on balls, we're getting back to base, we're making strong moves, and you have to do that if you're gonna play that team."
The Badgers improved to 39-8 in the NCAA Tournament under Sheffield and are now one win away from a trip to Tampa for the Final Four.
Before that, Wisconsin will have to defeat the Oregon Ducks, a future conference foe and the No. 2 seed in their region. Oregon went 28-5 this season and defeated Purdue 3-1 in the Sweet 16 Thursday.
The Badgers will match up with the Ducks at 7 p.m. at the UW Field House on Saturday.