The Wisconsin volleyball team will wrap up its four-match road trip this weekend against the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans in an effort to break its current three-match losing streak.
The Badgers (16-11, 4-10 Big Ten) are tied for ninth in the Big Ten standings heading into their match with the Wolverines (19-9, 7-7) Friday. Wisconsin swept Michigan Oct. 7, with UW committing just 13 errors and hitting a season-high .327 percentage in a conference match. The Badgers’ stout defense contained the Wolverines to a .144 hitting percentage in UW’s best defensive effort in a league match this season.
Third-ranked Penn State swept Wisconsin last weekend, and UW fell to No. 15 Ohio State in four sets. Falling into a 0-2 hole against the Buckeyes, the Badgers eked out a third set victory by two points but dropped a tight fourth set 28-30.
Even in losses, head coach Pete Waite said he was encouraged by the team’s play against two of the Big Ten’s top dogs.
“I think we did a lot of things well in both of those matches, actually,” Waite said. “I think the things we’re working on are our hitters hitting some different shots than their normal comfort zone. I think our passing was much better.”
Senior outside hitter Bailey Reshel led Wisconsin with 11 kills and no errors against Penn State Sunday with a career-high hitting percentage of .579. Sunday marked Reshel’s fifth match back after a head injury sidelined her for eight matches.
Reshel said while it is difficult to keep up a high hitting percentage throughout the duration of a match, this weekend’s matches depend on everyone giving her full effort on every play.
“Everyone should have the same mentality,” Reshel said. “Just go with no fear; we have nothing to lose at this point in the season. Just to get everybody on that same page of aggression, go after everything, and I think we’ll get there.”
Wisconsin played solid defense at the net against Penn State, out-blocking the conference’s top defensive unit 10-6.5.
Waite said as the league’s third-best blocking team, averaging 2.61 per set, UW’s defensive play will prove vital against two top-half conference opponents this weekend.
“If we can block well against both teams, and put some stress on their attackers, it helps us as defenders,” Waite said.
Michigan is riding a three-match winning streak, which includes a marquee win over No. 4 Nebraska. The Wolverines climbed out of a 0-2 deficit to take three straight sets against the Big Ten’s third-place team.
Michigan is led by junior outside hitter Lexi Erwin, who ranks eighth in the Big Ten with 3.92 kills per set and 4.45 points per set. She had 18 kills in the win over Nebraska, while junior outside hitter Molly Toon added a career-high 25 kills.
Waite said a key to playing both Michigan and Michigan State will be the team’s ability to score points, even out of its normal offensive sets.
“We worked this week on some out of system plays, where when there’s a real scramble, to still make a quality play and to better the ball, as we call it, so we’re still scoring out of that, and making great effort to attack the opponent with every swing we take,” Waite said.
Wisconsin finishes weekend against Michigan State
When the team travels to Michigan State (19-7, 7-7) Sunday, Wisconsin will be faced with the Big Ten’s top offensive player in junior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski. She leads the league in kills, service aces and points per set and racked up 19 kills in Michigan State’s win over Wisconsin Oct. 5.
Like Michigan, Michigan State also defeated Nebraska last weekend in five-set thriller for Michigan State’s first five-set conference victory of the season.
Wisconsin junior libero Annemarie Hickey, who leads the conference in digs with 4.79 per set, said the Badgers need to have consistent energy in this weekend’s matches. She said in last weekend losses against Ohio State and Penn State, the team struggled to find a sense of urgency at times.
“I think we were more upset of how much effort we gave and the mentality of going into those games and not wanting it as much as we should have,” Hickey said. “I think that was a big factor with how we played. … We’ve got to sustain that confidence throughout the whole, entire game.”
With only six regular season matches left on the Badgers’ calendar, Waite said the team needs to win two or three more matches to have a shot to make the NCAA Tournament.
With Wisconsin’s last three matches coming against ranked opponents, Waite said the team doesn’t have to panic yet, but this weekend provides a good opportunity to pad the team’s resume.
“I don’t think they stress about it; I think they fight hard for it,” Waite said. “They know the situation. All you can do is go out and battle with everything you have on that day, and you hope the results are good.”