It was just another weekend in the rugged Big Ten for the Wisconsin volleyball team. After sweeping Michigan State 3-0 (30-28, 25-20, 25-16) Friday night, the Badgers (14-9, 3-9) fell Saturday 3-1 (20-25, 22-25,25-22, 25-19) to the No. 25 Michigan Wolverines.
Things did not go quite as swimmingly Saturday against Michigan, but the team did fight hard against yet another ranked opponent, losing 3-1. The strong blocking continued, as the Badgers accumulated 13.5 blocks to Michigan’s eight.
“Our blocking was one of the best matches we had all season,” head coach Pete Waite said. “We’ve been working very hard on that, so we did a lot of good things blocking wise.”
Struggles in close sets continued for the team, as they lost a close second set 25-22.
The serving for Michigan proved to be the difference, as the Wolverines racked up four aces.
Senior Allison Wack looked perplexed after the game, frustrated in how the team adjusted to the serve.
“We just got caught off guard sometimes. They’re a great serving team. We weren’t moving our feet really as well as we have at times,” Wack said. “We have to know how much court we have to cover and be ready to move.”
The team stayed alive in the third set, winning 25-22, but was not able to extend the match any further and ultimately lost in four sets.
Friday, a thrilling first set went into extra points as each side had three separate occasions to close out the game, but ultimately Wisconsin came out on top. That seemingly propelled the Badgers in the next two games, as the team pushed forward for the sweep.
“I think it was really intense for us because normally in sets like that we haven’t been able to hold on, but we definitely showed a lot of maturity,” sophomore middle blocker Alexis Mitchell said. “That first set definitely set the tone for the rest of the match and we really wanted to win this game.”
Wack, reigning Big Ten player of the week, led all players with 14 kills but was also aided by 10 kills from Mitchell and eight kills from new starter Bailey Reshel.
Reshel, a sophomore transfer from South Dakota, replaced freshman Elise Walch. The coaching staff decided to give Reshel a chance after a strong week of practice, giving the team a new weapon in which to lean on. Her performance did not deter Walch, who ended up having a huge day Saturday against Michigan.
“She’s really quick off the floor, very fast arm. They don’t have a scouting report on Bailey, so they didn’t know quite where to set up on her,” Waite said. “She did a nice job, stayed very composed and handled herself very well.”
The balanced attack pleased Waite, as the team won its third match in its last four attempts.
“I think this win tonight showed that we’ve made a lot of progress since we were last at Michigan State. We’ve had two weeks of really good practices and really solid play in matches,” Waite said. “It was good to see them be rewarded for their hard work and solid play.”
Blocking was solid again for Wisconsin, an asset that has steadily been improving after being deemed a weakness earlier in the year.
The Badgers out blocked a tall frontcourt for Michigan State 7-3 behind strong efforts from Mitchell and Wisconsin freshman Julie Mikaelsen.
“We’ve really emphasized [blocking] everyday this week, and made sure that the players were getting a good feel for their technique and being patient but getting their hands across the net well,” Waite said.
Despite a less than stellar conference record, an NCAA tournament appearance is still a slim possibility because of the incredible strength of the conference.
Wisconsin takes to the road this upcoming weekend, traveling to Illinois and Northwestern to take on two more ranked opponents.