It feels good to be home for Wisconsin's volleyball team.
After three weeks on the road, the Badgers return to the Field House for a weekend set against Michigan State and No. 24 Michigan.
Wisconsin opened the Big Ten season on the road last weekend by sweeping both Illinois and Northwestern, extending its Big Ten winning streak to six straight matches. The team's last conference loss came to No. 17 Minnesota on Nov. 12, 2005.
With one year under new head coach Cathy George's belt, the Michigan State Spartans look poised to make some noise in the conference this year.
"Michigan State on Friday is a team who has not been in the top 25 this year, but I think they should be actually," UW head coach Pete Waite said. "Cathy George is a second-year [head coach], and she did a great job at Western Michigan."
George ranks as one of the top 50 for all-time winningest coaches in NCAA history with a 377-242 career record, but she is looking to make her mark at a big-time school such as Michigan State.
Waite believes she's already begun turning the Spartans' program around in her short time there.
"She had a transfer come in, a senior setter, Allison Ianni, who was playing at Pacific, but she's actually from [Michigan]," Waite said of George. "That just fit in perfectly for what she needed, so they're going to be really, really tough."
Junior outside hitter Katie Johnson will be the player to watch for, though. The preseason Big Ten team selection leads the team with 5.08 kills per game, good for second in the conference. Not too far behind her at 4.44 kills per game is junior outside hitter Ashley Schatzle.
The Badgers already know first-hand how tough George's Spartan team can be.
Last year, Michigan State took Wisconsin to five games in East Lansing, but it was Michigan who provided the upset the following night, and the Wolverines are much improved this year.
"Michigan's always been about halfway in the Big Ten," senior floor captain Maria Carlini said. "But now they're off to a good start and they're a strong team."
Heading into the Big Ten season, Michigan was undefeated, but the Wolverines opened conference play with a pair of heartbreaking five-game losses — one to No. 11 Purdue and the other to an Indiana team that caught many by surprise.
"[Michigan] took a loss to Indiana at home over the weekend, which really surprised us, so I'm sure they're going to be ready to go for this weekend," Waite said.
Even though the Wolverines are undefeated on the road so far this year, they play Friday night in a tough Minnesota environment where they haven't won a match since 1997, before heading to Madison Saturday where they haven't won since 1992.
Michigan may not be as well-balanced as Michigan State in its scoring, but there's no question who the Wolverines' go-to hitter is.
"They bring in Katie Bruzdzinski … she's their go-to hitter," Waite said. "But it's a pretty dynamic team."
While Michigan's scoring numbers may not stand out, its digging may be one of the best in the conference. The Wolverines' leader in digs per game has come from an uncommon position — the setter, Stesha Selsky. The junior leads the team with 4.44 digs per game and had two of her best games last weekend, posting 29 digs against Indiana and 27 against Purdue.
With a pair of matches back at the Field House, in front of hometown fans, the Badgers are primed to continue their Big Ten season in undefeated fashion.
"Nothing beats playing at home," sophomore outside hitter Audra Jeffers said.