In a pair of three-set sweeps Friday and Saturday night over UW-Milwaukee and California, the Wisconsin volleyball team advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament with their best hitting performances of the season.
Junior outside hitter Ellen Chapman recorded a team-high 12 kills against UWM and another team-high 14 against Cal Saturday.
Saturday night, Wisconsin fell behind early in the third set, but Chapman took things into her own hands as she had four kills in the deciding set, including the game-winning kill.
“I was trying to be aggressive anytime I got set,” Chapman said.
Chapman was not the only player hitting well for the Badgers as every Badger played well in the opening two rounds of the NCAA tournament, following the team’s motto: “Keep the train moving forward.”
The train did not stop as the Badgers turned in a season-high hitting percentage Friday at .461 thanks to an aggressive style the hitters all displayed. While playing with added aggression on the court, UW did not make many unforced errors during either of their matches this weekend.
Saturday night brought a new set of challenges for Wisconsin, as they had to keep their hitting strong going up against California, a team with a dominating front line. Going into the match Saturday night, the Badgers knew that hitting would be a challenge against the big and physical Cal team.
Without much time to scout a game plan, Wisconsin stayed true to what worked the previous night and hitting was the key reason for the second three-game sweep on the weekend. Against the tougher blockers of California, Wisconsin was able to keep their hot streak going by hitting .404 as a team.
Led by Chapman and junior outside hitter Deme Morales, the offense continued rolling, but the hitters were not the only ones getting in on the fun against Cal.
The net play of freshman setter Lauren Carlini added a change of pace that California could not seem to handle. Carlini was able to go out and just find holes in the defense and attack, tallying five kills and leading the team with a hitting percentage of .714 to go along with her 40 assists. Looking at the game as a whole, Carlini felt her performance Saturday was largely aided by the strong hitting by the rest of her teammates.
“Everyone has been taking really aggressive swings this weekend and they’ve been hitting the ball really well,” Carlini said.
Not only aggressive on the attack, UW was also smart about where and how to hit the ball.
Instead of swinging hard every time, Chapman and Morales were able to hit around the block and use tips to get the opposing defenders off-balance.
“There were certain areas where we felt we could go off-speed,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said.
Although the hitting saw most of the success in the stat line, Sheffield emphasized that UW’s defense led to better offense all weekend. Senior libero Annemarie Hickey had 29 digs in the two matches.
A big reason the Badgers believe is making for such aggressive performances this weekend is their growing confidence in one another.
“We are being aggressive and we are so confident in each other that it is just a complete team effort that is going to make us win in the end,” Carlini said.
This complete team effort has led to some of the best volleyball that Wisconsin has played this season. California head coach Rich Feller gave credit to the Badgers’ hitters, who kept his team off balance most of the game. He said that his team was not able to make adjustments quick enough to come back and win the match.
“They did a great job of keeping us on the defensive,” Feller said.
Carlini gave high praise for the all the hitters’ performances this weekend, which she hopes will carry on throughout the tournament
“Overall, our hitters have done just a great job and have been really smart these past two days,” Carlini said.