For the first time since 2006, the Wisconsin volleyball team will be competing in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament after sweeping California (25-19, 25-18, 25-21) in its second round matchup Saturday at the University of Wisconsin Field House.
This was 12th-seed Wisconsin’s second straight match where they hit for an attack percentage of more than .400 with a .404 clip. No player hit for less than a .333 percentage.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield said Wisconsin’s keys to the match were serving tough, the defense kick starting the offense and covering the back row — aspects of the match he said were all strengths for the team.
Wisconsin is now lined up to face Florida State Friday in Wisconsin’s 11th appearance in regional action in program history. At this point in the tournament, Sheffield said he’s thrilled for his players to continue with their season.
“It’s cool — I don’t know if there’s a better way of saying it,” Sheffield said. “I’m happy for our team. I’m happy Annemarie [Hickey] gets to play some more volleyball. We’re going to go [to Champaign]; we’re going to give it our best shot.”
After Wisconsin hit .486 through the first two games of the match, Cal’s growing intensity on defense and serving helped them build a 10-4 lead. Wisconsin was aced twice and had four attack errors in that span. The team totaled only nine errors the entire match.
However, a 5-0 run and hard-fought rallies propelled the Badgers to within one point of the Bears at 14-15, and eventually gained their first lead of the set at 21-20. Key kills from junior middle blocker Dominque Thompson and junior outside hitters Deme Morales and Ellen Chapman, who led all players with 14 kills, helped seal the set and the sweep for Wisconsin.
Freshman setter Lauren Carlini, who distributed 40 assists, said her attackers were finding a perfect balance with smart and forceful shots.
“Everyone’s been taking really aggressive swings this whole weekend,” Carlini said. “I think we’re just getting really good looks too and being smart with the ball.”
Senior libero Annemarie Hickey led the Badgers on defense with 18 of the team’s 45 digs. Hickey said she had to adjust to Cal’s deep hitting over the blocks by positioning herself farther back on the court to reach for balls.
Cal head coach Rich Feller said the toughest part of Wisconsin’s game was the defense — he said some of Cal’s biggest hits were being picked up by Wisconsin’s back row.
If Wisconsin were to defeat Florida State, it would next face a familiar Big Ten foe of either Purdue or 13-seed Illinois.
With No. 4 Missouri and No. 5 Florida knocked out in second-round action, Wisconsin is now the highest seeded team in its section of the tournament bracket.
Hickey said she has seen a determination in her team so far in the tournament, and against Cal, saw a fire in her teammates that told her they were ready to dominate the match.
“We’re playing really hard and we have a lot of belief that our team can go far,” Hickey said. “People say that going into the tournament that they’re nervous and they’re less confident, but that’s not our game plan at all. I can tell when I look into my teammates eyes that we’re all really confident and believe we’re going to win this game.”