First year Wisconsin volleyball head coach Kelly Sheffield has said all season that if his team could get healthy and gain some confidence there is no telling what they could accomplish.
Wisconsin found that out Thursday night in Seattle with a 3-1 win over the top-overall seed and defending national champion Texas in the national semifinals, punching its ticket to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2000.
“You know, we believed that we could win this match,” Sheffield told UW Badgers after the match. “And I think that’s a big part of anytime you go into anything. This has been a team that no matter who we played we believed, the players have believed that there’s a way to win.”
Led by freshman setter Lauren Carlini with 50 assists and junior outside hitter Ellen Chapman with 17 kills, the Badgers snapped the Longhorns’ 23-match winning streak taking the match in four sets 25-19, 25-18, 26-28, 25-23. Four Badgers reached at least nine kills on the night.
Wisconsin held Texas to a .156 hitting percentage, the team’s lowest offensive performance of the year. Senior libero Annemarie Hickey led all players with a 21-dig effort.
Wisconsin’s biggest edge came at the service line where the Badgers picked up seven aces and only three service errors compared to the Longhorns’ two aces and nine errors.
“We had to serve with confidence. We had to execute, fearlessness behind the serving line,” Sheffield said. “We believed if we did that…we’d have them out of system a lot. If they’re out of system, I knew we’ve got the best back court in the country and we’d be able to dig some balls.”
After cruising through the first two sets hitting a combined .254, the Badgers had to battle from an early 2-5 deficit in set three. There were 13 ties and five lead changes, including ties at 20 and 24. Wisconsin earned a set point at 25-24, but lost three straight points to drop the third set.
In the fourth set, Wisconsin found itself down 19-16, but a 5-2 Badger run tied the score at 21-21. With the score tied again 23, junior outside hitter Deme Morales ended the match with two kills, sending Wisconsin to its second ever national championship bout.
Wisconsin will take on No. 2 Penn State for the third time this season in an all Big-Ten national championship match – Penn State has swept Wisconsin twice this season.
The powerhouse Nittany Lions have reached a record nine national championship matches and have earned five national titles. Four of those crowns came in in consecutive years from 2007 to 2010.