After beginning its 2013 season with a perfect 3-0 start and taking the Pepperdine Classic last weekend, the injury-ridden Wisconsin volleyball team looks to stay undefeated at the North Dakota State Classic this weekend.
Wisconsin will first face Northern Iowa, a team that hasn’t missed an NCAA appearance since the 2005-2006 season, before taking on its first ranked opponent of the season in the No. 17 Louisville Cardinals, who posted a 30-4 record last year, in addition to tournament host North Dakota State.
The banged-up Badgers were without five of their 16 available players last weekend. In addition to the absence of junior Julie Mikaelsen, whose broken foot forced her to redshirt this season, Wisconsin sat freshman Lauren Carlini and junior Caroline Workman with leg injuries as well as junior Crystal Graff and sophomore Victoria Ito with ankle injuries.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield said the team has done a good job of rolling with the punches that come with a depleted roster.
“I thought we battled,” Sheffield said. “I think we did a pretty good job of trying to figure things out on the fly … We threw out some lineups that we didn’t really spend any time practicing. We really kind of went in there a little bit blinded. I was proud of our toughness and our figure-it-out ability.”
Junior Ellen Chapman was named the Pepperdine Classic MVP after putting up a total of 49 kills on the weekend, including 22 against the tournament host Waves.
Chapman has moved this season to right-side hitter in place of Mikaelsen from her previous left-side position. She said the team has been successful thus far in dealing with the numerous lineup adjustments.
“I think we’ve overcome it,” Chapman said. “Adversity is one of the main things we’ve been talking about during the whole preseason … I think it’s made us become closer because even if Lauren’s [Carlini] out or if we’re missing a main player like Jules [Mikaelsen], someone needs to step in and fill their spot regardless if you’ve done it in the past.”
Juniors Courtney Thomas and Dominique Thompson were named to the all-tournament team, with Thompson setting a school record in hitting percentage of .909 with 10 kills on 11 attempts and no errors.
Thompson said she’s always looking to stay aggressive and seize every opportunity she is given at the net.
“I’ve just been working a lot on being up every time in practice,” Thompson said. “I think that’s what helped me the most is just wanting the ball instead of just playing the game.”
This weekend may prove to be more challenging for the Badgers. Northern Iowa leads a balanced offense that has five players averaging more than two kills per set, while also digging an average of almost 19 balls per set. Sheffield said the Panthers run a controlled and quick offense that does not make many mistakes.
Louisville swept its first match of the season against Syracuse before falling to the country’s top team in Penn State. The No. 17 Cardinals won the Big East conference last season with a 13-1 league record.
Chapman said the team needs to improve its serve-receive game for this weekend’s tournament – Wisconsin committed 20 service errors in its win against Pepperdine, the only opponent that UW did not sweep.
“Just trying to get those serves in and still staying aggressive is something we need to work on,” Chapman said. “It’s a hard balance to get, but we’re trying to get there.”
Sheffield stressed that this early in the season, Wisconsin needs to focus more on improving its overall skills than worrying about its opponents. With so many players currently out of the lineup, he said the team is a “work in progress.”
Sheffield said he likes some of the pieces that he has in place and thinks the team flashes some signs of success, but he said the Badgers have a lot of work to do in all areas to reach a high level of play.
“It’s going to take us a good month or two before we look like a pretty good team,” Sheffield said. “We’re young, we’ve got a new coaching staff to try and figure people out, and we’ve had very little preseason with these guys. But we have some talent … we’re all just trying to figure it out right now.”