The No. 9 Wisconsin volleyball team completed its nonconference schedule with an impressive 8-1 mark. During that time, the Badgers won two of the tournaments they played in while taking home a second-place finish in the other.
"I was pretty happy with [the nonconference season]," head coach Pete Waite said. "The only one we stumbled on was at BYU, and I think the situation was such where BYU was feeding off their student fans. They just played at a really high level and didn't make many errors.
"In that match, I was happy how we competed until the very end and really had a shot at 13-13 to get the match."
However, Wisconsin must now put the early part of the season behind it and direct all focus to the Big Ten schedule.
"We are really excited just to get started into the Big Ten, playing some tough competition and just getting into the season," senior defensive specialist Amanda Berkley said. "We are ready to get away from preseason and get going."
The Badgers will continue their 10-game road trip by opening their Big Ten schedule when they travel to Illinois Wednesday.
Wisconsin has gotten used to playing on the road though, having already played six matches away from the Field House. During that span, UW went 5-1 with its only loss coming at then-No. 15 BYU in five games.
"You get used to the flights and hotels and the opposing crowds," Waite said about playing on the road. "That's the biggest thing. I think a match like BYU prepared us for [Big Ten road games]. No matter how much noise [the fans] are making, you still can compete and still have to get the job done between the lines."
However, if the Badgers are going to have success against the Illini, they are going to have to find a way to limit senior middle blocker Vicki Brown's role in the outcome. In the two meetings last season, Brown put down 22 kills with a .305 hitting percentage as well as six stuffs against UW.
According to Waite, if the Badgers are going to have success at limiting Brown, they must continue to serve tough, something Wisconsin has done well so far this season. UW currently ranks third in the Big Ten with an average of 1.97 service aces per game.
"The biggest thing with middle blockers, you got serve tough and attack in a strong way that keeps their setter off the net," Waite said. "If [the setter] is running past the 3-meter line and can't set to the quick hitter or the slide set to Brown, then they have to go somewhere else."
On the other side of the net, Wisconsin is going to have to combat Illinois' own tough serves. The Illini currently are sixth in the Big Ten with 1.89 service aces per game.
Nevertheless, Waite is confident he can count on any one of his defensive players to step up and provide a spark.
"I think we have a pretty good passing core," Waite said. "The fact that if one person is off, we've got another person on the bench ready to come right in, and we won't miss a beat when we do that — I think they will be able to handle it."
Although Wisconsin will have to focus on the serving game on both sides of the net to be successful, Berkley believes ignoring the Illini fans will be most critical in determining the outcome of the match.
"Their fans are right on top of us so we have to focus on our game and not let the atmosphere bother us."