After a lengthy homestand, the Badgers volleyball team is on the road again.
In a weekend pair of matches that kicks off four consecutive contests away from Madison, Wisconsin (9-5, 1-1) will first take on four-time defending national champion and No. 9 Penn State (8-4, 1-1) Friday.
It gets no easier for Wisconsin from there, as the squad travels to Columbus for a Sunday date with No. 24 Ohio State (11-4, 1-1).
Traditionally, the Badgers have struggled with Penn State — but then again, so has the rest of the country. A program with a history of excellence, Penn State has compiled eight 30 win seasons in the last decade, and this year the team looks ready to once again compete for a national championship.
“They’re big and athletic,” head coach Pete Waite said. “They play great defense and come at you from all different angles with their offense. It’s an experienced group that plays a fast and powerful game. They’ll try to keep you on your heels throughout with their serve receive, so we’ll have to focus on that.”
Led by 2010 AVCA Freshman of the Year and Second-Team All-American sophomore Deja McClendon, Penn State boasts an extremely talented lineup. As an outside hitter for the Lions, McClendon won the NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player award last year on her way to helping Penn State to its fourth straight Division I title.
Penn State freshman Micha Hancock has also been a large part of Penn State’s success so far this season, as the setter leads the Big Ten in service aces with 32 through 44 sets.
“McClendon is obviously one of their key players, but you go down the list and everyone’s big and playing at a high level,” Waite said. “You go down the roster and there’s 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 kids. Everyone’s been chasing Penn State the last few years.”
After their clash with Penn State, the Badgers will travel to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. Ohio State is enjoying success this year largely behind the efforts of fellow outside hitters Mari Hole and Emily Danks.
Hole, a junior transfer student from UCLA in her first season at Ohio State, is currently fourth in the Big Ten in kills (4.20) and points per set (4.85). Danks is no drop off from Hole, as the junior currently ranks fifth in points per set (4.69) in the conference and second in service aces with 29.
“We need to focus on our passing this week especially because we’re facing two great serving teams,” junior Alexis Mitchell said. “In order to run our offense effectively we’ll need great passing this weekend. Our serves will be important as well if we want to keep a team like Penn State out of system.”
“We’ve been working on serve-receive all week,” freshman Ellen Chapman said. “We’ll have to make sure our errors don’t lead to opponent wins this weekend.”
Waite knows the Badgers will have to bring their best this weekend to try to pull off a pair of upset victories on the road.
“If you don’t play your best volleyball, you don’t have a shot to win against teams like this,” Waite said. “It’s a matter of staying strong for the entire match and not having those ups and downs.”