The Wisconsin volleyball team received a painful dose of news this week.
Freshman outside hitter Crystal Graff will miss the remainder of the season with a right knee injury, and head coach Pete Waite foresees freshman Caroline Workman and junior Bailey Reshel working in tandem to fill Graff’s spot.
“Crystal is a six-rotation player, so she was playing front row and back row,” Waite said. “When you’re in the back row, your passing and ball handling all the time, and she’s very good at that. To replace her right now, we will go with two different people. At times it will be [Reshel] or [Mary Ording] in the front row, then [Workman] in the back row for them.”
Although Waite is happy to have the opportunity to rotate several bench players into the starting lineup, replacing one player with two comes at a high cost.
“It makes a difference in our substitution patterns because we have a limit of 12 to use each game. If it’s a long game and we run out of those, it could cause some issues.”
Recently, both Workman and Reshel have been seeing more court time. Reshel made her starting debut this past weekend against Indiana. The junior outside hitter helped the Badgers secure a 3-1 victory by contributing 11 kills and just one error. Reshel also assisted in three blocks and had two digs, bringing her averages up to .59 and .45, respectively.
“I’d like to keep a low hitting error percentage,” Reshel said. “My expectation is to be aggressive. I have to fill someone else’s shoes, and I would really like to keep it pretty consistent. That’s my goal.”
In the opening set of Reshel’s first season start, it appeared that the new lineup was going to take some getting used to. The Badgers fell behind early and eventually lost 25-20 to the Hoosiers. However, Reshel felt prepared and confident.
“In practice, we are always making switches when people get tired or when we have to help someone out,” Reshel said. “I think it’s pretty comfortable.”
Workman will be filling the hole that Graff left on the defensive end of the ball. This season, the freshman defensive specialist has played in 17 matches, including two starts. Workman averages .90 digs per set, and though she has consistently seen court time, the Badger recognizes that her spot is not guaranteed.
“There are four or five defensive specialists, and I think we all have an equal shot at playing in that back row position,” Workman said. “I think it’s just a matter of who is playing really competitive in practice and who can play well under pressure.”
Like fellow back row anchor Annemarie Hickey, Workman holds her own from the service line.
She has scored on five aces so far this season, averaging .10 per set. Workman has also added 11 service errors to Wisconsin’s season total of 137.
“We have to be a much stronger serving team,” Waite said. “That’s a big part of it. If we can keep the other team out of their offense and get a few more aces, it’s going to make a big difference.”
Another possible substitution for Graff in the front row is outside hitter and middle blocker, Mary Ording. The 6-foot-3 junior has played in 10 matches, her best being against Michigan State when she scored on a season high eight kills, raising her average to 1.33 kills per set.
Both Workman and Reshel are aware of the high expectations their coaches and teammates have for them now that they are going to be playing a bigger role in the Wisconsin’s success.
“Their expectations are the same as mine: to execute and stay consistent,” Reshel said.
Workman shares a similar attitude.
“For me, being a freshman, I have to work as hard as I can and be as competitive as I can and really work hard on just passing the ball and playing good defense,” Workman said.
As the second half of Big Ten play begins this weekend with round two against the Illinois Fighting Illini, Waite’s goals remain the same despite the loss of a key offensive threat.
“Our goal is to match or exceed what we did in the first half. We have seen these teams once already, so those freshmen of ours now have an understanding of what those teams are bringing. I think we caught some people by surprise last time, so now we have to battle to keep improving and beat those teams in the second round.”
Waite’s players, including Workman, have similar objectives for the remainder of the 2011-12 Big Ten season.
“As a team, I hope that we can finish .500 or above so that we can make it to the tournament,” Workman said. “I hope that we can improve mentally as a team and also physically.”