The sixth-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team faces their two biggest conference opponents back-to-back this weekend at the UW Field House.
Friday night the Badgers will face off against No. 10 Penn State. Picked to finish first in the Big Ten in the preseason, the Nittany Lions suffered their first conference loss of the season to Ohio State on Sept. 26.
That loss dropped Penn State four spots in the USA Today national poll, from sixth to tenth. After defeating the Nittany Lions, Ohio State jumped up the polls from No.15 to No. 11.
Saturday night the Badgers will take on Ohio State. Both the Badgers and the Buckeyes are 4-0 in the Big Ten — the only remaining undefeated teams in the conference.
Ohio State freshman outside hitter Stacy Gordon was named the Big Ten Player of the Week after the Buckeyes’ 3-2 victory over Penn State. She has become the first freshman volleyball player in Big Ten history to earn the honor in consecutive weeks.
With the hardest competition of the season heading into Madison this weekend, UW head coach Pete Waite has spent the week preparing his team for the two days of tough play ahead of them.
“It is tough going back-to-back nights with [these two teams] because you know you’re going to have to make a huge effort again on Saturday.” Waite said. “However, we have no problem with motivation — that’s something we’ll be up for both nights.”
Wisconsin senior middle blocker Sherisa Livingston is up for the challenge and even sees a positive side to the tough weekend ahead.
“I do like that it’s going to be a great weekend of competition,” Livingston said. “It makes it easier to get up for the games knowing you’re playing the two best teams in the conference right away.”
Knowing his Badgers had to turn things up a notch this week, Waite made some changes in practice.
“Some of the drills are a little harder,” Livingston said. “At the same time, though, we’re getting further into the season, so the drills have to get harder — they have to get longer.”
All eyes in the Big Ten will be on this weekend’s games in Madison. Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State are the undisputed frontrunners in the closely contested conference.
Adding to the importance of the weekend, each team only faces off twice during the season, giving every match extra importance in the race for the Big Ten championship. Waite emphasized the importance of this weekend’s games, and his team’s chances of a repeat Big Ten championship.
“We want to prove that we’re the one that’s going to get it done and win the conference,” Waite said. “I think it’s going to be one of the these three teams in the end.”