After dropping its season opener 3-1 to Missouri Friday, the Wisconsin volleyball team bounced back to earn a weekend split at the 2004 Badger Challenge, defeating Georgia Tech in a five-game thriller Saturday at the UW Field House.

The No. 23-ranked Badgers won the fifth and decisive game against the Yellow Jackets 20-18, capped off by back-to-back kills from junior co-captain Aubrey Meierotto.

“That was a big win for our program,” said Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite, who, with the win, earned his 397th career victory. “It was exciting just to see our players really step up against a very good team, to play consistently through the fifth game and to just battle with everything they had.”

Using an effective block and some precision passing, the Badgers cruised past the Yellow Jackets 30-22 in game one but fell short in game two, 30-26.

Wisconsin responded with another 30-22 victory in game three, before falling 30-19 to set up a decisive fifth game.

Georgia Tech jumped out to an early 8-4 lead and appeared poised to earn its first victory of the season.

A timeout by Coach Waite and some solid individual play from Wisconsin middle blocker Sheila Shaw shifted the game’s momentum.

Following a Shaw kill and a misplaced spike by the Yellow Jackets, the Badgers tied the score 9-9.

Both teams traded points until the score tied at 13.

Amy Bladow, one of Wisconsin’s most vocal leaders, came up with a crucial kill at this juncture, giving the Badgers a 14-13 lead and putting them just one point shy of a win.

As it turned out, however, the game and match were far from over, as Georgia Tech responded with two-straight points to recapture the lead.

After some more seesaw playing, the Yellow Jackets’ Jayme Gergen slammed a kill through the Badger defense, giving Georgia Tech a 17-16 lead. Following a lengthy discussion between the line judge and head official, however, the Georgia Tech point was erased and Wisconsin was awarded a point, flip-flopping the score to give the Badgers a 17-16 lead.

The reason for the score change was met with visible displeasure by Georgia Tech head coach Bond Shymanky, who had received a yellow card earlier in the match, but the officials stood by their call.

“It was a strange situation,” Waite said. “As I understand, one of their players was standing out of bounds before the serve of the play, and that’s illegal. You have to be in the court. I know their coach isn’t very happy about it. But if the officials see it, they’re going to call it.

“Sometimes you get the breaks; sometimes you don’t. Last year we were at Georgia Tech, and we lost in the fifth [game]. It was a battle. So these are two well-matched teams.”

Wisconsin capitalized on the scoring change and went on to win the match 20-18, with its final two points coming courtesy of Meierotto kills.

“I was just out there knowing that I had to get the job done on those last two swings,” said Meierotto, who registered 20 kills and a career-high 23 digs. “I just went up aggressive no matter what. If I had double block [on me] or not, I was just going to pound through it.”

This weekend’s Badger Challenge was the first time some of Wisconsin’s key players played at the college level.

The inexperience of freshman setter Jackie Simpson and libero Jocelyn Wack created one of the big question marks heading into the Badgers’ 2004 campaign, but Coach Waite was generally pleased with their debut performances.

“They grew up very fast; they learn very quickly,” Waite said. “Jocelyn (Wack) was much more solid, much more aggressive out there tonight. She just had to understand that she’s a great passer, and we need her to do it. And Jackie (Simpson) totally takes charge. She’s a gamer, and she’ll battle for everything. There’s still more to learn, but we liked the start.”

Simpson, Wack and the No. 23-ranked Badgers will be in action again Friday when the team plays Denver at the Kansas Invitational.

Coming away with the victory was an important step in the development of this year’s squad and gives the team something to build on heading into this weekend, Waite said.

“[The win] was huge,” he said. “We didn’t know if we’d go 2-0, 1-1 or 0-2, and this is a great boost for the team going into next week. We learned a lot about ourselves and what we can do. And we learned a lot about what we need to do to get better.”