When Purdue walked out onto the court of the Field House Saturday night, the Badger volleyball team knew that they were facing an opponent that was struggling not only in the Big Ten, but in their overall game plan.
With a sub-par record, the Boilermakers can make it hard for a team to become motivated to play them. Being such a heavy favorite to win, it would have been easy for the Badgers to overlook Purdue from their place on top of the Big Ten rankings.
With an undefeated record in conference play and having already beaten two of the top teams in the Big Ten (Ohio State and Penn State), the Badgers look poised to win their second straight Big Ten title. However, the players and coaches are not resting comfortably.
“Last year we lost the two matches and were in the position where someone else controlled what could happen to us,” said senior Sherisa Livingston. “If someone lost [last year] then we were going to have the Big Ten title outright. So this year our thought is to go after every team, no matter who it is, as hard as we can and don’t let who is on the other side of the net affect how we’re going to play.”
Head coach Pete Waite could not agree more. Waite has said repeatedly that even though outsiders see a team that is the favorite to take the conference, he sees a team that still has work to do in order to perform at the maximum level. Waite feels that if people went and watched the Badgers practice, they would see the same thing.
“We have plenty of things to work on,” said Waite. “We really cannot sit on these wins and say, ‘Oh, this is wonderful.'”
Last night was a perfect example of this. Despite the three-game sweep, UW struggled at times, especially in the second game. Purdue was able to take an early lead and keep the game close up until the end. Wisconsin committed eight attack errors and three service errors. Waite stressed the importance of reaching a consistent level of play, no matter how good or bad a team may be.
“Our goal is to play at a high level no matter who we’re playing,” said Waite. “It’s always easy against the top teams in the conference and it’s sometimes tougher against the teams that are struggling. At times against Northwestern last Wednesday, we lowered our level [of play] a little bit — we don’t like doing that because it takes us out of our rhythm. Tonight was much better; we stayed at a high level most of the time.”
With the conference season almost half-way through, the Badgers have to prepare for the toughest part of the schedule. With a four-game road trip slated for the next two weeks, including a weekend stretch against Penn State and Ohio State, UW is looking to erase the small errors from their game and start playing at the highest level possible.
“We want to peak at the end of the year,” said Waite. “We haven’t peaked yet.”