The Wisconsin volleyball team is moving on to the second round of the NCAA tournament after soundly defeating the Milwaukee Panthers in straight sets (25-11, 25-14, 25-15) Friday night at the UW Field House.
The 12th-seeded Badgers posted its best hitting percentage of the year by almost .100 percentage points with a .461 attack clip in the team’s second win against the Panthers this season.
Even though Wisconsin hasn’t seen post-season action in six seasons, head coach Kelly Sheffield said a grueling conference season in the Big Ten will prepare a team for almost anything.
“We just got through a heck of a gauntlet called the Big Ten conference,” Sheffield said. “You come out the other side and it should strengthen you – it should give you confidence. We played like a team that’s been in a lot of big matches.”
Wisconsin began the game with a tough test in the first part of game one with the score at 9-8. However, the Badgers rattled off a beastly 8-0 streak and finished the game on a 16-3 run.
The Badgers were led offensively by junior outside hitters Ellen Chapman and Deme Morales who contributed 12 and 11 kills, respectively. Freshly-minted Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Lauren Carlini, had 39 assists on the night and had three kills of her own.
Sheffield said the hitters were able to play smart while staying aggressive at the net – Wisconsin committed just four errors in the entire match, and no Badger hit for less than a .300 hitting percentage.
Senior libero Annemarie Hickey said the team was so amped up earlier in the day that Sheffield had to remind the players that their match wasn’t in the middle of the afternoon.
“Our energy level was actually really high,” Hickey said. “You could just tell that everyone was really excited and just feeding off each other’s energy.”
Defensively, the Badgers put up 11 blocks to Milwaukee’s two, and both Hickey and sophomore defensive specialist Taylor Morey scrambled for 10 digs apiece.
Milwaukee head coach Susie Johnson said Milwaukee had to play a near perfect match to overthrow Wisconsin, but the Badgers were so in system that her team was unable to find any sort of rhythm.
“They’re pretty hot right now,” Johnson said. “And if they play like that, they’ll keep winning. They were very difficult to defend … they were a lot better than they were Sept. 14 when we played them.”
Wisconsin will advance to a second round matchup with California tomorrow night after Cal stomped No. 15 North Carolina 3-0 in round one Friday night.
Sheffield said Cal was potentially underrated coming into the tournament because of significant injuries that plagued the team later in the season. Cal had lost five straight matches coming into the tournament, but Sheffield said he is concerned about Cal’s physical presence that not even the biggest Big Ten teams could match up with.
However, Sheffield said that while most people think of 2013 as a successful year for Wisconsin already, the players are determined to prove they are deserving of a longer life in the NCAA tournament.
“They feel like there’s more to accomplish,” Sheffield said. “There’s hunger – [they’re] not satisfied.”