The Wisconsin volleyball team bounced back and proved its worthiness as a top-echelon team in the country Sunday with a dominant 3-1 victory over the No. 5 Michigan State Spartans — just two days after falling to No. 16 Michigan Friday.
This was No. 15 Wisconsin’s (16-4, 5-3 Big Ten) fourth win against a ranked opponent this season and first win over a top-five team since 2006.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield said in order for his team to succeed against such athletic and talented teams, Wisconsin had to play with high energy and a grind-it-out mentality.
“We don’t have the physical specimens that a lot of the teams in this conference have,” Sheffield said. “But we can win with really good serving and really good ball control, knowing our assignments and being very tough-nosed defensively. I thought we were great in all of those areas.”
After losing the opening set, Wisconsin dominated both sides of the net, beating Michigan State by six, nine and seven points in the last three sets respectively. The 25-16 game-three ambush was the fewest points the Spartans have scored in any game this season.
Junior outside hitter Courtney Thomas said an important reason for the Badgers’ success was the team’s ability to take the Spartans “out of their system” with their aggressive serving.
“I think serving was a key factor in that match,” Thomas said. “We were serving and taking their hitters out and knowing who they were going to set because of who was passing.”
Freshman setter Lauren Carlini distributed her 36 assists to six players who finished with five or more kills on offense. The Badger offense grew more controlled as the game progressed, with the team improving its attacking percentage in each set, finishing with a .239 attack percentage.
Defensively, Wisconsin held Michigan State to a .122 attack clip, well below the team’s average of .262. The Badgers forced a total 26 errors, including 10 on the part of Spartan senior Lauren Wicinski, who leads the Big Ten with 4.54 kills per game.
The Badgers were led defensively by senior libero Annemarie Hickey, who totaled 27 digs on the day, setting a season high. Hickey said Wisconsin’s strength on defense on Sunday was the effort the team puts into every play and scrapping for every ball.
Even though the team will now turn its focus to a matchup with No. 10 Minnesota Wednesday, she said there was a definite sense of enthusiasm for knocking off the first place team in the Big Ten.
“We’re really excited about that win,” Hickey said. “We really wanted to show everybody what kind of team we are after our game on Friday. Everyone’s super pumped about it.”
Badgers fall flat in loss to No. 16 Michigan
In a sluggish effort by the Badgers, the Wisconsin volleyball team was swept for the second-straight match to the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines Friday night in front of the largest crowd at the Field House this season.
Wisconsin (15-4, 4-3 Big Ten), who has now lost three of its last four matches, committed 26 errors on the match and hit a .119 attack percentage — the lowest offensive clip of the season.
Sheffield said the team’s defeat Friday is the weakest effort he has seen from his team all year.
“That was disappointing,” Sheffield said. “Probably the first match all year that we were punch-less. I thought Michigan played like the more desperate team for a victory tonight.”
Wisconsin put forth a strong effort in the first game, keeping within two points of Michigan throughout the game. Down 23-24, junior middle blocker Dominique Thompson connected on back-to-back kills, putting the Badgers up one. But two Badger attack errors in the last four points helped the Wolverines squeak by with a 28-26, a lead they wouldn’t look back from.
Freshman setter Lauren Carlini said a slow 1-8 start in the second game put the Badgers in too deep a hole.
“In the second game, we just started off so slow and so dead,” Carlini said. “It was just quiet out there. It’s hard to come back from a deficit like that.”
Sheffield said there were a number of blown assignments in the back row on defense. He did not see the diggers in back row adjust their defensive reads according to the blockers.
Sheffield cited a lack of transition game as a reason for the offensive struggles. He said while on defense, the blockers weren’t urgent enough in getting back to an offensive position.
He said it’s nearly impossible to generate any kind of force on the ball when offensive players stay too close to the net.
“We put a lot of fluff behind the balls,” Sheffield said.
Hickey said now even as a ranked team and a team that has gained respect in the Big Ten, Wisconsin needs to play with more heart.
“I think it was just lack of fight and wanting to win,” Hickey said. “I feel like we’re just expecting it to be handed to us, and we’re not working hard enough … That’s on our whole team.”