In a four-set match Oct. 27, the Wisconsin women’s volleyball team suffered a 3-1 loss to Big Ten opponent Illinois at the University of Wisconsin Field House.
After coming off two big victories against two ranked Big Ten opponents, No. 5 Michigan and No 7. Minnesota, the No. 16 Badgers failed to continue their hot streak, falling to 17-5 on the season (6-3 Big Ten).
First year head coach Kelly Sheffield expressed his disappointment with the team’s performance, while also complimenting the gameplay of the Illini, especially the performance of junior outside hitter Liz McMahon.
Sheffield said he believes the team needs to step up in the big moments of the games in order to return to its dominant form.
“Look at the three games that they (Illinois) won, by 3, by 2, by 3,” Sheffield said. “One team executed when the games were on the line, and one team didn’t.”
The first set consisted of a lot of back-and-forth points, with the Badgers taking their first lead over the Illini at the 6-5 mark on a net violation. After Illinois began to pull ahead in the middle-stretch of the game, redshirt junior middle blocker Dominique Thompson and junior outside hitter Ellen Chapman combined for two big kills in back-to-back points followed by a serving ace by junior outside hitter Deme Morales to tie the game back up again at 19. Although the set was competitive, the Illini pulled away to take the first set 22-25.
The second set proved to be even more intense than the first, as 15 tied scores and nine lead changes occurred in the 54-point showdown.
The Badgers pulled ahead early on as Illinois was forced to call a timeout, down 7-10 following a kill by Morales that made the crowd go wild. The middle of the set consisted of multiple ties and lead changes until the Badgers managed to pull ahead 22-19. With the game seemingly in hand, the Illini shocked the home crowd with five straight points to put them within one score of a 2-0-match lead. Wisconsin pulled off two straight must-win points to force a win-by-2 sudden death scenario. With the score tied at 24, the two teams traded-off points until the Illini dealt the Badgers a heartbreaking loss for the second straight set, 28-26.
The Badgers came out with a vengeance in the third set, taking a 6-0 lead to start the game. Their early dominance would set the tone for the rest of the third game in a 25-11 wire-to-wire rout. Morales and Chapman helped anchor the offensive attack with 4 kills each. Sophomore libero Taylor Morey was a solid contributor to the defensive game, recording 3 digs in the blowout win.
Chapman pointed to the history the team has of overcoming adversity when looking back on the dominant victory in the third set.
“We’re kind of used to being down one or two games. It doesn’t really phase us or bother us,” Chapman said. “Sometimes you need to take a step back and realize what you need to do, and in game three we executed that.”
Morales also praised the improvement serving as a big reason for coming back strong in game three, saying that it was the main factor that allowed them to climb back into the match.
The fourth set started off with neither team being able to score more than two straight points on the other, reflected by a 6-6 tie after 12 points.
After a four-point run by the Illini pulled them ahead 17-10, the Badgers fired back with four straight of their own with the help of a couple errors by Illinois and a pair of kills by Thompson and freshman setter Lauren Carlini. Wisconsin was able to tighten the gap at 20-21 and 22-21 deficits, but the resilient efforts of the Badgers proved to be not enough as the Illini came up big when it mattered most, taking the fourth set 25-22 and the match three games to one.
When looking back at why the team lost, Chapman said it was more about not capitalizing than anything else.
“I think we as a team beat ourselves. I don’t think it was so much Illinois doing anything spectacular.” Chapman said, “We knew what they were going to do, it’s just that we didn’t execute what we planned on doing.”
Morales led the Badgers in kills with 17, while McMahon registered 20 for the Illini. Senior libero Annemarie Hickey recorded 21 digs, and Illini Senior Jennifer Beltran had 21 of her own.