GREEN BAY — The NCAA tournament run of the Wisconsin volleyball team was halted in the Elite Eight. After upsetting No. 2 Hawai’i a night earlier, UW simply had nothing left for Stanford and fell to the Cardinal 3-0 Saturday in the regional final.
“It just seemed like we were a little out of gas,” Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite said. “The emotion wasn’t there that they would normally bring. They were trying everything they could to get it going.”
Led by senior outside hitter Ogonna Nnamani, the Cardinal advanced to the Final Four with a 30-18, 31-29, 30-26 victory. Nnamani, a 2004 Olympian, was nearly unblockable, hammering 27 kills and hitting .490 in the match.
Stanford set the tone early, hitting .526 in a game-one romp. Nnamani led the way with 10 kills in the game.
The Badgers had an opportunity to even the match by taking game two, but could not take advantage. After battling back from an early 8-2 deficit, UW served for game point at 29-28, but a kill from Stanford’s Franci Girar dashed Wisconsin’s hopes. An attack error by Maria Carlini and a kill by the Cardinal’s Kristin Richards gave the No. 11 seed Stanford a 2-0 lead.
“If we had gotten that second game, I think the match might have been much different,” Waite said. “But, Stanford did a great job.”
An exhausted Wisconsin team tested Stanford again in game three, but ultimately faltered down the stretch. After UW’s Taylor Reineke tied the score at 25-25 with a kill, the Cardinal took over, outscoring the Badgers 5-1 the rest of the way. Richards closed the books on Wisconsin’s season by placing match point in the left corner of the UW back row.
Aubrey Meierotto and Sheila Shaw led Wisconsin with 13 kills apiece. The Badgers were out-hit by the Cardinal .362 to .180.
“I think it was a tough match for us today coming off a very emotional match last night,” Waite said. “The team gave everything they could, but the first game was very flat for us. I was really proud of the way we battled, considering what they went through last night.”
Friday night, the Badgers succeeded where the rest of the nation had failed by pinning the first loss of the season on the tournament’s No. 3 seed Hawai’i. Led by a career-high 25 kills from senior Jill Odenthal, the Badgers defeated the Rainbow Wahine (30-1) 3-2 by scores of 31-29, 30-23, 22-30, 28-30, 21-19.
“Technically, tactically we just couldn’t stop Odenthal,” Hawai’i head coach Dave Shoji said. “We tried everything. We tried blocking her line, blocking her cross-court, stacking the block on her. We never did slow her down.”
Wisconsin stormed out of the gates to claim the first two games of the match behind a team hitting percentage of .326. Hawai’i regrouped during the intermission and forced a fifth game by taking games three and four.
The Badgers fell behind 13-11 in the decisive fifth game, but a service error by the Wahine’s Kelly Ong and an Odenthal kill evened the count. After Hawai’i survived four unsuccessful Wisconsin match points, the Wahine had their chance to put the Badgers away at 19-18. Not ready to end her collegiate career just yet, Odenthal hammered a kill to tie the score.
“I told them in the fifth game, ‘You guys better want this as much as I do because I want it very, very bad,’” Odenthal said.
After Carlini and Reineke blocked Hawai’i’s Juliana Sanders, Odenthal recorded a solo block on Boogaard for match point.
“That was one of the most phenomenal matches I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve been coaching for a long time,” Waite said. “Hawai’i is a great team, and I have a ton of respect for them.”
Three Badgers joined Odenthal in double-figure kills. Shaw and Meierotto each tallied 16 slams, while Carlini added 13. Libero Jocelyn Wack starred in the UW backrow, popping up a career-best 35 digs.
Hawai’i was led by Boogaard’s 20 kills.
“I told my players that was one of the best volleyball matches I’ve ever been involved with as a player or coach,” Shoji said. “It was well played, it had every emotion that you could ask for. I think it was what college athletics are all about.”
The Badgers conclude their season with a 22-10 record. The Elite Eight is Wisconsin’s best NCAA finish since 2000. Odenthal and Wack were both named to the Regional’s all-tournament team. Nnamani was named Most Outstanding Player. Stanford joins Washington, USC and Minnesota in the Final Four.