As the midseason mark creeps near, the Wisconsin women?s volleyball team is off to its best conference start ever. At 8-0 in Big Ten play, the sixth-ranked Badgers are wreaking havoc on teams across the country, and more importantly, on conference rivals. However, things are not as smooth as outsiders may think.
The Badgers are playing some of the best volleyball by far in the conference, if not the country, but the perspective on the inside is that there is still work that needs to be done. Both the players and coaches agree that every aspect of the game can be improved until they reach the level of play they expect will carry them through the NCAA tournament.
One reason for the heightened level of play is the implementation of rally scoring into the five-game match. Rally scoring erases any room for error and credits the team that plays the best on both the serves and side outs.
So what exactly does a team that leads the Big Ten in kills (17.84 per game), assists (15.79), and digs (15.32) have to work on?
“Just improving all aspects of the game,” senior setter Lizzy Fitzgerald said. “We?ve done a great job of playing really strong against the stronger teams, but I think we need to work a little on making runs at points while we?re serving. While we?re a great side out team, we need to make runs defensively so we can get points at a time instead of going back and forth. In rally, it is hard if you go back and forth because it keeps the game close.”
UW head coach Pete Waite has continually repeated that he is still waiting for his team to reach its peak level of performance, and until that happens practice will continue to focus on improving rather than maintaining.
“We need to work on overall team coverage and any area where we can become more balanced and aggressive,” Waite said. “For the first two days of practice we really went hard at the team, and they put in some tough practices. I like having these two days to focus and improve our skills before concentrating on the opponents.”
Waite has also addressed keying in on his outside hitters’ attacking against big blocks and tough defenses, and making sure that after an opponent gets set the team is ready to block and pick up the kill.
In other words, before UW can begin worrying about the game plans of Minnesota and Iowa, they will instead have to worry about themselves.
10, 9, 8,7 … : When the Badgers head to Minnesota this weekend for the start of a two-week road trip, more than balls will be dropping. Senior all-American middle blocker Sherisa Livingston is just 10 kills shy of breaking the UW all-time record held by former Wisconsin standout Amy Lee. Lee, now an assistant with the Badger volleyball team, ended her four-year career with Wisconsin back in 1997 with a record 1,661 kills. That year, she helped lead the team to a share of the Big Ten title. Lee currently holds the record for attack attempts (4,129). At the pace Livingston is going she will break the record in the second game against Minnesota on Friday.
They just keep going, and going, and going … : With the sweep over Northwestern and Purdue last week, Wisconsin extended its Big Ten winning streak to 12 matches. The last time the Badgers lost a conference match was less than a year ago, when they lost to Penn State on Nov. 11, 2000. Along with the 12 consecutive match wins, the Badgers also have won 19 straight games. The third game loss to Michigan Sept. 22 was the last time that UW was taken to four games.
Everyone looks up to Lizzy: Senior all-American setter Lizzy Fitzgerald has remained atop the NCAA in assists. But while her 14.41 assists per game is tops in the nation, Fitzgerald is quick to credit her teammates.
“It isn?t something I keep track of or look to,” said Fitzgerald. “I think it says a lot about our hitters because an assist is setting them up for the kill, so that means our team is getting a lot of kills. I am doing my job and then they are doing their job to get the ball to me to put it away.”
Fitzgerald hit that nail on the head; the Badgers also lead the nations in kills per game with 17.94 per game. That assault is headed by Livingston, whose 4.98 kills per game is 15th in the nation.