The Wisconsin Badgers are headed back to the Final Four after a triumphant 3-1 victory over the Oregon Ducks at a raucous UW Field House on Saturday night.
This Elite Eight matchup pitted the top two teams in the Madison region against each other, and it did not disappoint. The Badgers and Ducks barely separated after the opening point.
Wisconsin was up 14-13 in the first set, followed by advantages of 21-19 and 23-22. Sarah Franklin earned one of her 20 kills to allow for set point, and an attack error from Oregon’s Morgan Lewis handed the first set to the Badgers, 25-22.
The Ducks raced out to an early 8-3 lead in the second set, forcing a Wisconsin timeout. The Badgers quickly recalibrated, taking the lead right back with a 6-0 run. Oregon eventually tied the set back up at 14 and had a 20-19 lead later in the set.
The teams, like they had all night, continued trading points and were all evened up at 22. Then, the Badgers’ attack titans Franklin and Anna Smrek killed off the last three points to seal another 25-22 set victory for Wisconsin.
Despite the Badgers having a significant advantage, Oregon was too competitive to go out quietly. The third set was a volleyball tour de force, with both teams truly putting it all on the line. The Ducks jumped out to a 10-5 lead and looked like they would refuse to give up another lead as they later held a 16-11 advantage.
The Badgers, who trailed most of the set, managed to knot it up at 23 all. The teams once again kept trading points, this time going over the minimum 25 points required to win the set. Oregon had three chances at set point and finally converted courtesy of an attack error by Franklin to force a fourth set.
The fourth set started tied at eight, and it appeared another highly-contested set was on the horizon. However, the Badgers ripped off a 7-0 run to take a 15-8 lead and create considerable distance for the first time all night.
Oregon hung around for a little longer, but the run was too much to overcome. The Badgers went on to win 25-18, sending the Field House into a jubilant roar.
The Badgers, who suffered a heartbreaking loss to Pitt in the Elite Eight a year ago, are now headed back to the Final Four for the fourth time in the past five years.
Wisconsin’s regular stars powered their win against Oregon. Behind Franklin, Temi Thomas-Ailara had 11 kills and Smrek added 10 kills.
Franklin, who has powered Wisconsin’s attack all year long, was overjoyed to be heading to her first Final Four after transferring from Michigan State two years ago.
“This is a dream come true for a lot of people. To be able to be put into this opportunity with all these girls is beyond words,” Franklin said.
Franklin clearly made an impression on Oregon head coach Matt Ulmer, who ended his press conference saying, “Sarah Franklin is excellent.”
Meanwhile, Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield was thrilled by his team’s competitiveness and drive.
“This was a total team effort, he said. “We had no give up tonight. The amount of fight to keep the ball off the floor… to give ourselves a chance was the best I’ve ever seen.”
The Badgers now head to Tampa two games away from reclaiming the National Championship they won in 2021. First, they will take on the Texas Longhorns, who won last year’s National Championship and went 25-4 this season.