The Badger volleyball team will be looking to rebound this weekend after a disheartening five-game loss to Minnesota last weekend and a move down to third place in the Big Ten standings.
“We have (changed), but unfortunately some of the tendencies are still there,” head coach Pete Waite said. “At times we can be that strong team that comes through … but then on occasion there are times when things break down and we come away with the loss.”
The Badgers (18-7, 9-5) will have the opportunity to pick up two wins this weekend as they play matches against two of the three worst teams in the conference. Friday night the Badgers play ninth-place Illinois (11-12, 5-9) and then Saturday they host last place Purdue (11-16, 1-13).
Illinois will come into the Fieldhouse after sweeping Purdue last weekend before being swept themselves by Penn State. The Illini have had a back-and-forth season that is currently in jeopardy with the day-to-day prognosis of middle blocker Lisa Aragabright. The 6-foot-2 junior has missed the last four matches with mononucleosis. Aragabright has watched Illinois go 2-2 without her team-leading 3.91 kills and 2.85 digs per game. The Illini defense is led by senior outside hitter Sue Webber, who leads the team with 2.83 digs per game, and libero Lauren Harkshas, who adds 2.76 digs per game.
“Illinois is the kind of team that can be both up and down,” Waite said. “They are one of the only teams to have beaten Minnesota this year, and it was at Minnesota.”
The Badgers’ other opponent this weekend are the lowly Boilermakers of Purdue. The Boilermakers benefit from the leadership of junior Joanna Lowry, who fronts the team with 3.91 kills and adds 2.85 digs per game. Sophomores Kim McConaha and Daren Poe round out the Purdue attack with 3.57 kills and 3.48 digs per game respectively.
“Purdue has been struggling; there is no doubt,” Waite said. “They’ve got a young team, and they have had trouble getting the wins.”
The Badger attack will be led by senior outside hitter Erin Byrd, who leads the team with 4.15 kills per game and also contributes almost three digs per game. Senior Lori Rittenhouse has taken over the team lead with a .328 hitting percentage while averaging 3.04 kills per game. Sophomore outside hitter Jill Odenthal adds three kills per game to the Badger attack and is fourth on the team in hitting percentage. Junior Morgan Shields leads the team with 13.76 assists per game, which currently ranks third in the nation.
The Badger line-up is still solidifying itself this late into the season, however the play of Lauren Ford, Korie Gardner, Jill Maier and Aubrey Meierotto off the bench have provided the Badgers with the most depth in the Big Ten.
“I think we’ve got people in the right positions,” Waite said. “We may see a little more of Aubrey Meierotto, she has done a nice job getting in there.”
Although the Badgers needed to beat Minnesota in order to seriously contend for the Big Ten title, the team has moved up to the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region and has dropped only one spot nationally to No. 14.
“Right now we focus on the match with Illinois,” Waite said. “We went down to Illinois and took a loss at their place. I don’t think we’ll have any trouble getting motivated for [this] one.”