The Wisconsin volleyball team will look to improve on its Big Ten conference standing at home this weekend against the Northwestern Wildcats and the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Wisconsin (15-8, 3-7 Big Ten) is hoping to rebound from a tough loss to the Indiana Hoosiers Friday night at the Field House, its second loss of the week.
Sophomore outside hitter Ellen Chapman said the team won’t dwell on last week’s loss.
“Losing to a team, any team, is always hard but you just need to look past and look forward to see what you can improve on for the next game,” Chapman said.
Chapman, an all-freshman Big Ten team selection in 2011, is averaging 2.94 kills per set, ranking first on the team, and will be looking to set the tone at the net both offensively and defensively.
Illinois (10-10, 4-6 Big Ten) is coming off a disappointing loss to national power and fourth-ranked Nebraska. The Illini lost in straight sets and were their own worst enemy, committing 24 attack errors. That said, Illinois will certainly be eager to improve its play when it travels to Madison Friday.
The Illini are led on the offensive side by redshirt freshman outside hitter Jocelynn Birks. Birks leads the team in kills and against Nebraska had an impressive stat line of 13 kills, 5 digs, an ace and even a solo block.
The redshirt freshman leads the team and ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 4.09 kills per set. In addition to being a force at the net, Birks also has a team-leading 18 service aces.
Wisconsin will be out to avenge a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the Ilini earlier in the season in Champaign, Ill. The Badgers were able to battle back after trading sets to force a fifth set before ultimately being handed their first Big Ten loss of the 2012 campaign.
Badgers look for another win over Wildcats
The Badgers will play the Northwestern Wildcats Sunday in their second game of the Halloween weekend. UW opened its Big Ten season against Northwestern with a win in September.
Wisconsin holds a dominant home advantage over Northwestern with a record of 25 wins to only eight losses.
Northwestern (14-7, 3-7), despite experiencing similar struggles in conference play, is coming off a dominant straight-set win against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Wildcats were able to shine defensively with a season-high 13 blocks.
When asked how the Badgers will attack an improved Wildcat team, senior middle blocker Alexis Mitchell preached a mindset of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“We went in there very confident, ready to play them, and I think that if we just go with that same confidence, knowing that they have gotten better, but there are things we have gotten better at too,” Mitchell said.
“It’s not going to be an easy match at all.”
Mitchell leads the Badgers with a .333 hitting percentage and ranks second on the team with 1.14 blocks per set, which translates to seventh-best in the Big Ten, respectively.
Sophomore middle blocker Savannah Paffen led the Wildcats past Iowa with an outstanding game and will be a player the Badgers must keep an eye on Sunday. Paffen boasted a stat line of a career-high seven blocks as well as a match-best attacking percentage of .467 against the Hawkeyes.
When asked how the team can improve following last week’s loss, Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite stressed the importance of the Badgers’ serve-receive game.
“It’s mostly our serve-receive that we have been affected by, because in turn it affects your offense if you’re not passing well,” Waite said.
Junior libero Annemarie Hickey will play a vital role in Wisconsin’s serve-receive game, and Waite said she will be back for the two conference matches after suffering a minor injury last weekend.
Hickey ranks second in the Big Ten with 4.74 digs per set this season and will be key to Wisconsin’s defensive play.
If the Badgers are able to sweep both games, they will move into fifth place in the Big Ten standings.