Once again, the Badgers are on the road.
Following a strong performance Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, against Ohio State, the Wisconsin volleyball team (10-6, 2-2) is looking to maintain its momentum against Michigan State (13-3, 2-2) Friday in East Lansing, Mich.
After upsetting the No. 24 Buckeyes with a mixture of strong service and solid interior defense, the Badgers will look to build on the momentum and confidence of their recent upset.
“When we played Ohio State, we had a goal of playing tough and having that mental toughness of not doubting ourselves,” senior Janelle Gabrielsen said. “I think every time we were serve receiving or hitting we all had that strong confidence that led to a great performance.”
After struggling in its previous match against Penn State, Wisconsin significantly decreased its number of errors to wrestle a win away from Ohio State. The Badgers rebounded from an abysmal 10 service return errors against the Nittany Lions by only committing two against the Buckeyes.
“I think with our serve receive in that match we weren’t dwelling on passing mistakes we made during the game,” sophomore Annemarie Hickey said. “We just shook it off and knew we had what it took to win. We know we’re great passers, so mental toughness was definitely important throughout that match.”
The defense for the Badgers has been relatively solid all year thanks to Gabrielsen and Hickey. The two lead the Badgers in digs (134 and 277, respectively) and will have to continue to be solid in upcoming matches.
Led by senior outside hitter Jenilee Rathje, the Spartans make the most of every kill opportunity. The Spartans lead the nation in hitting percentage, with a whopping .326 ratio. Rathje, a 2010 first-team All-Big Ten selection, is currently fifth in kills per set ratio in the conference (4.19) while also holding the fifth best points per set ratio (4.63).
“We’ll continue to prepare the way we have been,” head coach Pete Waite said. “Rathje is a great player, but it’s all about us. If we’re working together on the block and slowing things down with our defense we can cause some problems for other teams. We’re going into these matches this weekend as the underdog, and we’re going to fight hard to get these wins on the road.”
After a battle with the Spartans, the Badgers conclude their four-game road trip in Ann Arbor, Mich., where they will face their third ranked opponent in five matches.
Michigan (14-2, 2-2) is currently ranked No. 18, in no small part due to its outstanding service on the court. Michigan leads the Big Ten in service aces per set at 1.87, and it should come as no surprise that the Wolverines have three players in the conference’s top 10 for service aces per set. Led by third-team All-American Alex Hunt, the Wolverines are near the top of every major statistical category in the Big Ten.
Service receive will be extremely important for Wisconsin to contain the strong Michigan attack led by Hunt.
“Michigan is a different team without Hunt, but they’re still strong,” Waite said. “Last weekend, they played without her against Nebraska because she’s had some shoulder issues. But I assume she’ll be rested and ready to play this weekend against us.”
Another storyline against Michigan will be a sibling rivalry. Wisconsin redshirt sophomore Kirby Toon will face her sister, sophomore Molly Toon, who is an outside hitter for the Wolverines.
“They meet each other, and I’m sure will both want to leave with bragging rights,” Waite said. “I’m sure they’ll enjoy seeing each other because they don’t get the chance very often, but they’ll still battle when they step on the court.”
Wisconsin and Toon will look to keep their winning ways going with another upset win this weekend.
“We know we can play with the top teams,” Gabrielsen said. “We just have to keep staying mentally tough like we did last weekend.”