The Wisconsin volleyball team needed all hands on deck on offense Monday night in a complete team win over No. 7 Minnesota, the first time in six years the Badgers have knocked off the Gophers.
Wisconsin hit a .256 attack percentage, the second-best team percentage during this Big Ten season.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield said an important factor for the Badgers was whether or not they would be able to score points against a talented Gopher defense, but a spread offense was the key to a second-straight top ten victory.
“I thought that was a really good team win,” Sheffield said. “We had a lot of help throughout our lineup, and that’s the way we’ve got to win. We might not have some of the superstars that some other teams have … but we’re just dependent on everybody.”
Minnesota ranks second in the conference in blocks with 2.79 per game, but only blocked Wisconsin a total of seven times in four games. Minnesota boasts two of the top six blockers in the Big Ten in senior middle blocker Tori Dixon and freshman middle blocker Hannah Tapp.
Minnesota also places third in the league in digs with 14.94 per set.
Six Badgers registered a kill on the night, with four players accumulating double-digit kills. Junior outside hitters Deme Morales and Ellen Chapman led the Badgers with 15 and 14 kills respectively, combining for just seven errors on 76 attempts. Morales tallied seven kills in the fourth set on a .429 attack clip.
Sheffield said Chapman and Morales were key reasons for keeping the Minnesota defense off guard.
“With Ellen [Chapman] and Deme [Morales], I thought they did a great job of just working the ball around,” Sheffield said. “[They were] working the ball to different areas of the court, not just going after the same shot over and over again; just trying to keep the defense off balance.”
In the game one loss, freshman setter Lauren Carlini had more success targeting junior outside hitter Courtney Thomas who accumulated five kills on nine attempts. Carlini also worked quicker offensive sequences by passing to her middle blockers in freshman Haleigh Nelson and junior Dominique Thompson, who combined for four kills and no errors.
Carlini, who tallied 48 assists on the night, said the offense lacked the intensity at the start of the match to outscore the Gophers, who had 18 kills and just two errors in game one.
“Sometimes in the first set, we just come out a little flat and without as much energy as we should,” Carlini said. “The last few games we’ve been coming out in games two and three and just being a lot more aggressive and a lot more vocal and having more energy, so that definitely helps.”
After game one, more opportunities arose for Morales and Chapman to be more involved on offense. After hitting a combined .142 hitting percentage in the first game, the two hit .322 in proceeding games.
Sheffield said Carlini’s overall decision-making was solid, but improved significantly as the match progressed. He said the team was getting a better feel of where to attack the ball as the match moved forward.
Carlini said she constantly analyzes the opponent’s defense for weakness, but said it was helpful that she had several options at the net who were hitting for high percentages.
“Find the hitter and seeing what the blocking on the other side was doing,” Carlini said. “We had some good matchups that we were able to expose on their side.”
Chapman said that the team’s strategy is to target the weaker areas of the defense and adjust throughout the match. In Wednesday’s match, it was a strategic decision for Carlini to target the middle blockers more often, but then passed often to the outside hitters when the opportunity arose.
Chapman also said Wisconsin’s serving allowed the team to cash in on easy points when Minnesota couldn’t attack aggressively at the start of points.
“Our serving kept their energy down a lot because they were always out of system,” Chapman said. “We did a really good job transitioning out of those easy attacks and then just putting the ball away, which raises the energy on our side.”
Morales said that Wisconsin thrives when the team can rely on anyone, especially in matches against upper echelon Big Ten teams, to make big plays in any situation.
“I think it was a complete team effort in this match which kept the momentum high,” Morales said. “There wasn’t one person who had to keep carrying the momentum for the whole team.”