For the first time in 7 years, the Badger volleyball team dropped two Big Ten Conference matches in a row. Ranked No. 23 before the weekend, Wisconsin was swept by No. 25 Illinois (30-15, 30-26, 34-32) a day after losing a four game match at Northwestern. Wisconsin (18-9, 10-6) has now lost three consecutive matches for the first time since 1995 and remains tied for fourth in the conference. Illinois (21-5, 13-4) won its 11th straight at home this season and remains tied for second in the league.
“They ran into an Illinois team that is playing better than I’ve seen in two or three years,” UW head coach Pete Waite said. “It was very big, 6-3, 6-5. I think we battled ourselves back in game two and in game three we had a chance to win at 29-26, and we couldn’t quiet hold them off.”
The Badgers struggled on offense as only Sheila Shaw registered a double-figure kill total with 10. Jill Odenthal added nine kills, and Marian Weidner and Amy Bladow each put down eight.
The Illini were led by Rachel Van Meter with 16 kills but only finished with a slight 50-49 advantage at day’s end. Illinois had four players in double-figure digs besting, while Lisa Zukowski and Jill Maier were the only two UW players in double-figures with 12.
“We had some kids come off and do a nice job,” coach Waite said after the game. “Katie Lorenzen came in. Maria Carlini [and] Kirin Swanson came in and did a nice job. Sometimes you’re searching for that right chemistry, and they did a nice job getting back in those games. They gave us a good shot at it, but this Illinois team is just a team right now that is playing great, and we’ll have to get back into the gym and get back on track for next week.”
The Badgers had another strong defensive night at the net, recording 10 team blocks. Bladow led the UW with four.
UW came out flat in game one as two early Illini blocks keyed an 8-2 lead for the home team. Wisconsin cut the lead to two (10-8) on a Shaw service ace but Illinois added three more blocks to take its biggest lead of the game at 21-9 eventually winning the game 30-15.
UW came back in game two, leading by five (13-8) behind three kills from Amy Bladow. Illinois rallied to tie the game at 20 behind the play of Rachel Van Meter, who had five kills in the second game. The score was tied three more times, including at 24-24 before Van Meter pounded down two consecutive kills to put the Illini up for good.
Wisconsin changed its lineup in game three, with Marian Weidner starting for Zukowski and Maria Carlini starting for Jill Odenthal. The changed lineup put the Badgers up 12-7, but the Illini again came from behind to tie the score at 17. The game remained tight though 24-24 until two consecutive Badger blocks put Wisconsin up 27-24. UW served for game point twice (29-27 and 29-28), but two Badger hitting errors allowed the Illini to tie the game again. Wisconsin held off two Illinois match points, but two UW errors gave the Illini the sweep.
“We have to bring a higher energy on the road,” Coach Waite said. “We took care of Illinois at our place, and played them great there, but we have to come out and play at a higher level from the get-go in any match on the road.”
The blowout loss came one-night removed from a disappointing performance by UW at Northwestern. For the second straight season, the Badgers fell to the Wildcats, this year losing in four games (24-30, 30-23, 35-33, 30-26).
Sheila Shaw keyed a 6-0 run by the Badgers in the middle of game one to put Wisconsin up by eight points. With the Badgers up 16-14, Shaw had three consecutive kills, teamed with Zukowski on a block and set Meierotto up for a kill to put the Badgers up 21-14. Odenthal added her third service ace of the game for Wisconsin’s greatest lead. Northwestern would cut it to five (26-21), but the Badgers continued to hit well for the win.
Wisconsin’s serve receive broke down in game two, and the Badgers could never get their offense going. The Badgers hit 25.7 percent for the game. The Wildcats had four aces in and kept UW off balance. Wisconsin trailed 12-11 before Northwestern scored six straight points to go up 17-11. The Badgers cut the lead to two (18-16) behind two blocks from Shaw and Maria Carlini, but the Wildcats got back on a roll to go up 23-16 behind two aces from Drew Robertson.
The Badgers rallied from a five-point deficit (18-13) in game three to tie the score at 23. Wisconsin led 26-23, keyed by a block solo from Shaw, but Northwestern tied the game at 26 off of a kill from Jill Buschur. The Badgers served for the game at 29-27, but two consecutive Wildcat kills tied the score again. The game would feature four more ties before a UW hitting error put Northwestern up two games to one.
After losing the third game, Wisconsin couldn’t get back on track in the fourth game falling behind 10-5. The Badgers would cut the Wildcats’ lead to one (25-24) but Northwestern kept up the pressure for the win.
Over the past two weekends the Badgers have fallen from first to fourth place in the Big Ten, and as they return home this weekend they will be looking for their first win in four matches.
-compiled from staff reports