Following a thrilling four-set win against then-ranked No. 5 Michigan State, the Wisconsin women’s volleyball team will host No. 7 Minnesota Wednesday evening to conclude a difficult stretch of games for UW.
The Badgers’ (16-4, 5-3 Big Ten) last six matches have been against top-25 ranked opponents. With the Big Ten featuring seven teams ranked in the top 25, Wisconsin is playing in arguably the most competitive conference in the nation.
After falling to No.16 Michigan last week, UW rebounded with the big victory against No. 5 MSU (17-3, 6-2 Big Ten). Minnesota (18-3, 6-2 Big Ten) enters Wednesday’s matchup in a similar position after two impressive wins over the Spartans and the Michigan Wolverines.
The Gophers have won the past 10 meetings against the Badgers, a streak that dates back to November 2007. Since 1975, Minnesota holds a 42-32 edge over Wisconsin in the all-time series.
The Badgers will have their hands full as the Gophers cross the border with a stifling defense led by reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week Hannah Tapp. The middle blocker recorded a combined 14 blocks, five kills and two digs in two games last week against MSU and Michigan.
However, Tapp will not be the only freshman on the court to look out for. UW freshman Lauren Carlini was named the 2012 National Volleyball Gatorade National Player of the Year, the highest honor for a high school player, and was the top recruit of the national freshman class. The setter leads the team in assists with 644 on the season. Now fully immersed in the Wisconsin program, she is ready for her first taste of the Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry.
“We have to show everyone that beating a No. 5-ranked team wasn’t a fluke, and we have to prepare to take on another tough top-10 team,” Carlini said.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield said he is encouraged watching Carlini constantly try to better herself every day and is impressed by her ability to read opposing defenses and her patience on the court, taking only what the defense gives her.
Sheffield and the Badgers will look to Carlini and redshirt junior Ellen Chapman to fracture Minnesota’s feisty defense. Chapman leads the Badgers in kills per set, averaging 3.35, the eighth-best in the Big Ten.
“There’s probably not enough attention to what [Chapman] does for us,” Sheffield said. “She’s got a really good serve and offensively she’s moving the ball around. When she’s aggressive and confident, she’s awfully good.”
The 6-foot-4 outside hitter was pleased with the outcome against MSU, feeling both sides played an exceptional match, but realizes there is still work to be done, especially against rival Minnesota.
“It was one of the most fun matches I’ve played in the Field House, the crowd was so into it,” Chapman said.
Looking at Minnesota, Chapman knows shutting down the team’s All-American seniors Ashley Wittman and Tori Dixon will be a key to victory. Dixon leads the team in kills (269) and blocks (96), while Wittman is second on the team in both (221 kills, 44 blocks).
Senior Annemarie Hickey will be in charge of neutralizing Minnesota’s front-line. The libero earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors this week for her play against MSU. She recorded a season-high 27 digs against the Spartans and she averaged 6.43 digs per set across the weekend. As a team, the Badgers averaged 18.43 digs per set.
Also looking to join the defensive stronghold will be junior middle-blocker Dominique Thompson, who grew up a Gophers fan–with good reason–as her father, Darrell Thompson, played football at Minnesota. Now a loyal Badger, Thompson ranks 10th in the Big Ten with 1.08 blocks per set. She leads the squad with eight solo blocks and 75 block assists.
“It’s two defenses that have really suffocated their opponents this year,” Sheffield said. “It should be a great match for fans to come to with two really good teams going at each other.”
The Badgers have already had great success this season compared to last year’s campaign. Sheffield, in just his first season as head coach, has his team sitting at 16 wins so far, only one game shy of last year’s 17 total wins.