The Wisconsin volleyball team will gain national attention this weekend as it travels to Ohio State and Penn State, two of the top teams in the conference.
The Badgers will take on the No. 15 Buckeyes Friday and will then have a date with third-ranked Penn State Sunday, a match that will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
Wisconsin will look to build on last weekend’s range of highs and lows. The Badgers beat Illinois Friday, something they had not done in five years, and then lost a heartbreaking five-set match Sunday to Northwestern.
Together, the matches featured some of the best volleyball of the season for Wisconsin and also some of the worst in Sunday’s gut-wrenching loss. UW head coach Pete Waite said moving on from that disappointment will be key in the upcoming weekend.
“We don’t dwell on it,” Waite said of the loss. “We won’t dwell on that because we did a lot of good things in the match. From the way we started to the way we finished was actually really good. We need to focus on the things we need to get better at.”
Wisconsin will need to improve if it wants to beat an Ohio State team loaded with talent. The Buckeyes took care of Wisconsin 3-1 in Madison earlier this season. Ohio State is coming off a weekend in which it upset fourth-ranked Nebraska on the road and swept Iowa, part of a three-match winning streak.
The Buckeyes are paced offensively by senior outside hitter Mari Hole, who leads the team with 4.06 kills per set. Defensively, they are led by junior libero Davionna DiSalvatore, who averages a team-best 3.85 digs per set.
The country’s No. 15 squad also features a two-setter system. Wisconsin senior middle blocker Alexis Mitchell said the Ohio State match is the first priority.
“We need to focus on Ohio State first, definitely,” Mitchell said. “It’s a match that we know that we can win and our teams are very similar. We have to come back and beat Ohio State this weekend.”
The Badgers will then take on perennial powerhouse Penn State after the match with Ohio State. The Nittany Lions made quick work of Wisconsin earlier this season in Madison, dominating the match to earn a three-set sweep.
However, the Nittany Lions showed their vulnerability this past weekend, losing their first Big Ten match of the season to Nebraska by a score of 3-2, breaking a 15-match winning streak for Penn State.
On the offensive end, Penn State is led by junior outside hitter Ariel Scott, who leads the team with 3.63 kills per set. Junior Deja McClendon adds 3.33 kills per set.
Penn State is led defensively by junior middle blocker Katie Slay (1.41 blocks per set) and sophomore libero Dominique Gonzalez (3.59 digs per set). Sophomore setter Micha Hancock averages 11.61 assists per set and boasts one of the best serves in the Big Ten (41 service aces).
Wisconsin junior defensive specialist Annemarie Hickey said despite their stellar résumé, the Nittany Lions are beatable.
“I think on any given day and on how we’re playing, we can beat any team in the Big Ten,” Hickey said. “We need to have that confidence and know that we are a good team to beat these teams. It doesn’t matter if they’re ranked or how good they are. It’s just another team on the other side. We need to worry about our side and what we can do best to win that game.”
The Penn State match will mark the first time since 2008 the Badgers will be featured on ESPN. The 2008 match was a loss to then-top ranked Penn State. Wisconsin is 11-7 all-time on ESPN network appearances, five of which have been against Penn State, in which the Badgers are 2-3. Waite said it will still just be another match.
“Any match you go to, there are a lot of cameras and a lot of things going on,” Waite said. “For the most part, I just think they’re focused on the match and their opponent. It would be great if we play a great match and get the win on national television, but the biggest thing is us competing well and not being distracted by too many things.”