Although it is still relatively early in the Big Ten season, there are already a few surprises on the volleyball court. Penn State, who was predicted to finish atop the conference, already has a loss to Ohio State.
The Buckeyes, on the other hand, have yet to lose a match and have only lost three games in the 39 they have played. Minnesota, a team that was predicted to contend for a Big Ten title, already has two losses, while Northwestern has already surpassed both its overall and conference win totals from the 2000 season after just ten matches.
The 6-4 Wildcats, who have a 3-1 conference mark, are actually a benefit for Wisconsin. Northwestern is the Badgers’ traveling partner, which means it will have the same opponent rotation as UW.
For example, Wisconsin will face off with Ohio State, Penn State this weekend, and the Wildcats as well. So how does NU help out the Badgers? Very simple: with the Wildcats’ surprise play in the Big Ten, opponents are forced to focus more on Northwestern during practice than they have in the past.
This focus on NU takes away attention that normally would have been given to Wisconsin.
“Northwestern is really coming on strong”, said Badger head coach Pete Waite. “That helps us because teams really have to focus harder on Northwestern during the practice week. We're hoping NU gives teams a lot of trouble before they get to us.”
But what is it about a team that is statistically at the bottom of the Big Ten that is giving teams such problems? The Wildcats lack any senior leadership and can only boast four juniors to the dominantly underclassmen squad.
NU ranks dead last in assists per game (11.16), second to last in kills per game (13.14), and is eighth overall in hitting percentage (.198) in the Big Ten. These are hardly the stats that scream competition.
But two things the "Cats have going for them are their front middle blockers, Erika Lange and Sarah Ballog. Both are instrumental in the Wildcats having the second best blocks per game average (3.11). They have taken away from opposing teams' attacks, allowing them to beat such teams as Indiana, Michigan, and Michigan State.
Against MSU, Northwestern was able to contain Erin Hartley, the core of the Spartan attack, to 10 kills and a .071 hitting percentage — a feat hard to accomplish. “Northwestern beat the Michigans, which is hard to do in one weekend,” said Badger middle blocker Sherisa Livingston. “So despite the lack of statistical dominance, the Wildcats have that something that amounts to enough to win — a feat that they are not used to.”
And the Badgers couldn't be more thankful.
One step closer to the top: After moving from ninth place to seventh place last week, the Badgers (10-2, 4-0 Big Ten) have moved up one more spot to sixth in the latest USA Today/AVCA Top 25 Coaches’ Poll. One major change this week came at the top sport where Long Beach State overtook Nebraska for first place.
Other Big Ten teams making waves included Ohio State moving up four spots to No. 11, while Penn State dropped to tenth after losing to Ohio State.
A Badger first: When UW senior Sherisa Livingston recorded her 500th block, she became the first Badger to record 500 blocks and 1,500 kills in a career. She is only the fifth Wisconsin player and 23rd Big Ten player to record 500.