For most collegiate volleyball teams, opening the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament with back-to-back 3-0 sweeps would be quite the accomplishment.
In 3-0 victories over California (30-23, 30-22, 30-25) Saturday and Loyola Chicago (30-18, 30-26, 30-14) Friday, the Badgers' volleyball team posted two dominanting wins statistically.
Wisconsin out-hit Loyola .363 to .156 and California .283 to .116 as both opponents were only capable of hitting over .100 in one game of each match.
But don't let the stats fool you, head coach Pete Waite is hesitant to be completely satisfied with the way in which his team tipped off the NCAA tournament.
"Statistically we looked very good, but just as far as the goals we have and what we want to look like on the court with ball handling and playing together, I don't think the stats show how we felt out there," Waite said.
While the Badgers had virtually no problem matching up with the personnel of the Golden Bears or Ramblers, they were a number of internal problems Waite had to address.
With seven service errors in each of the two matches, Wisconsin's serving — typically one of its stronger assets — was undoubtedly an issue.
All Big-Ten middle blocker and senior co-captain Shelia Shaw, playing in her last official home stand at the UW Field House, struggled from the service line with six errors herself on the weekend.
"I definitely struggled my serving and I just know that I have to keep working hard with it," Shaw said. "Just go back, do my routine, and stay relaxed, and just stick it. I'm looking forward to [the next game] for redemption."
Even though the Badgers had their serving woes, maybe the biggest reason for the errors was the simple fact that the NCAA is using a different brand of volleyballs for the tournament than UW has become accustomed to.
"It is a different ball and it moves different," Waite said. "This one actually moves a lot more than the ball we've been using so if our kids have been going straight at the net all year and all of a sudden it's dropping down too early, it's not necessarily something they're doing differently, they just have to get adjusted to the ball."
Another item of concern for Wisconsin was maintaining momentum over the weekend and staying in sync against a scrappy Loyola Chicago team and a top-ranked California team.
In the opening match Friday, the Badgers did not come out as crisp as they usually do and it was evident in the second game, as the Loyola Ramblers capitalized on Wisconsin's mistakes.
"We were not clicking on all cylinders," Waite said.
With the score at 20-16, Loyola head coach Marcie Bomhack called a timeout and then watched her team pull out a 5-0 run to capture the lead at 21-20.
"We definitely showed a lot of fight," she said.
But in the end, Shaw was just too much for the Rambler attack as she posted 10 kills and no errors in 16 attempts for a .625 hitting percentage as well as seven block assists.
"She's probably the best middle blocker we've seen this season," Bomhack said.
Led by Shaw and fellow senior co-captain Aubrey Meierotto with 10 and 14 kills, respectively, the Badgers came out with a lot more fire and intensity versus California Saturday.
However, Cal made a strong push behind Angie Pressy's eight kills in the third game, but it was simply too little, too late for the Golden Bears to make a comeback.
"At that point, it was a little too late," Waite said. "We were able to slow them down, get in their faces."
Wisconsin made the most of their size on the net against the Bears although Cal head coach Rich Feller denied the Badgers' advantage.
"We've played lots of teams that big," Feller said. "But when they get in system, they are pretty hard to stop."
While UW head coach Pete Waite will be the first to say his team wasn't completely in system as Feller believed, the Badgers were able to gut it out and advance to the Sweet 16.
Notes: Libero Jocelyn Wack extended her double-digit dig streak to 62 consecutive matches, one short of the NCAA record held by Griselle Lopez-Pereira of Virginia Commonwealth at 63 … setter Jackie Simpson posted her third double-double of the season and seventh of her career with 37 assists and 10 digs Saturday … The Badgers were one of three Big Ten teams, along with Purdue and Penn State, to advance to the Sweet 16 as Ohio State, Minnesota, and Northwestern lost in second round play … Wisconsin travels to College Station, Tex., next weekend to play the sixth seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish.