The Wisconsin volleyball team did its best to defend home court this weekend.
The Badgers earned a weekend split after defeating Michigan Sunday by a score of 3-0, which came after Friday’s hard- fought 3-1 loss to No. 25 Michigan State. UW relied on stellar defensive play both Friday and Sunday, something that has powered the team all season.
Wisconsin has ranked high in the Big Ten in defensive stats throughout the season. The Badgers rank third in the Big Ten in blocks per set with 2.84 and third in digs per set with 15.72.
Wisconsin also ranks fourth in the conference in opponent’s hitting percentage at .172, and head coach Pete Waite said there are small contributions on defense that don’t always show up in the scorebook but were vital for the match Sunday.
“I think we deflected a lot of balls,” Waite said. “We want to deflect it and slow it down. It doesn’t count in the score sheet or the box score, but it’s just as important that we do that, and I think we did a good job of that today.”
Despite losing to Michigan State Friday, the Badgers played one of their best matches of the season, especially on defense.
Wisconsin had 12 team blocks, compared to just five for the Spartans. The Badgers also recorded 77 digs on the night, while Michigan State had 68 and committed only four receiving errors in 78 chances, resulting in great passing throughout the match.
UW also recorded impressive individual defensive statistics on the night, as Mary Ording led the way with seven blocks for the Badgers.
Courtney Thomas, Alexis Mitchell and Crystal Graff also contributed three blocks each, and defensive specialist Caroline Workman posted a career high with 18 digs. Thomas led Wisconsin with 19 digs and libero Annemarie Hickey added 17 blocks on the night.
But Ording said the blocks did not come as a surprise.
“There was a lot more communication,” Ording said. “That’s something we worked on in practice this week. So just talking between the blockers definitely makes it easier.”
The Badgers snapped their four-match losing streak Sunday in defeating Michigan, but defense was again a key to the success for Wisconsin. UW out-dug the Wolverines 46 to 38 and committed just three receiving errors in 54 chances on the afternoon for a percentage of .947.
The home team also held Michigan to a mere .114 hitting percentage, and, despite only out-blocking the Wolverines seven to six, Mitchell said the impact their blockers had was a key in the match.
“I think we have been doing a pretty good job blocking,” Mitchell said. “We just really got in their faces early in the match and they struggled and started to get pretty tentative and started rolling and tipping a lot of balls.
“We only out-blocked them seven to six, but we made them hit it to our diggers and they did a good job of digging the balls.”
Mitchell led the Badgers with five blocks against the Wolverines, and Graff also contributed on two blocks. Hickey led the way with 16 digs, while Thomas and Julie Mikaelsen added 11 and 10, respectively, for Wisconsin.
Hickey said the Badgers’ defense impressed her.
“Our game plan was to out-dig them,” Hickey said. “Always go for the ball, never look at a ball and never let it drop. I think we did that well today.”
The effort the Badgers put on the defensive end is paying off this season. And when Wisconsin does excel on defense, good things tend to happen. The Badgers are 13-0 when an opponent hits under .200 this season.
The Badgers are also 11-3 when they out-block their opponents and they have not been out-blocked in 15 consecutive matches. Wisconsin is also 7-1 when they record more digs than the opposition, and that success can be accredited to the emphasis the Badgers put on defense in practices and in matches.
“We work on it [defense] all the time,” Waite said. “Part of that is blocking; part of that is Michigan made some hitting errors. But that is something we focus on all the time, our defense and our blocking.”