It was a bittersweet weekend for the eighth-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team, as they swept Ohio State Friday, but had a disappointing loss on Sunday to second-ranked Penn State.
Sunday’s match against Penn State came down to the last play in front of a sellout crowd of 10,326, the first sell out in Wisconsin volleyball history.
The final play of the game occurred after a hit by Penn State was blocked by Brittney Dolgner and Taylor Reineke and called out of bounds to give the Nittany Lions a 15-13 win.
The call was controversial because, according to coaches from both sides, a PSU player touched the ball before it went out. Even Penn State coaches admitted their player touched the ball.
“The people who could have made the call didn’t see the ball, and it was a lucky no-call for us,” Penn State head coach Russ Rose said. “It wasn’t the only call of the match that I was disappointed in.”
After a disappointing 18-30 loss in the first game, the Badgers were able to rally for two straight, winning 30-24 in both games.
In the first game, the Badger defense broke down, allowing the Nittany Lions to have a hitting percentage of 73 percent compared to the Badgers’ 46 percent. Wisconsin was also out-blocked four to two.
On offense, the Nittany Lions were led by Megan Hodge, who had six kills in the first game and 23 in the match. She is ranked fifth in the Big Ten, averaging 4.47 kills per game.
In the second and third games, the Badgers were able to hold off late-game rallies by the Lions. Wisconsin was led by Dolgner, who had a combined 12 kills in the two games.
Overall, Dolgner, who ranks second in the Big Ten with 4.74 kills per game, had 23 kills in the match.
The fourth game was tight as the Badgers were unable to hold a 23-22 lead and lost 30-27 on a Nicole Fawcett kill. Wisconsin was out-blocked three to one and allowed Penn State to accumulate a 59-percent hitting average.
“I think it was great the way our team battled,” Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite said. “They lost the first game by a pretty big point spread and Penn State was really on their game, but I think we settled into our game, and some players had some big swings for us [and] some good digs. So, I’m proud of the team and the way they played.”
In a game that had 16 tied scores and five lead changes, momentum was the key for both teams. In all five games, momentum switched from one team to the other, making the match as intense as it was billed to be.
“For us, it was about making adjustments,” Penn State assistant coach Salima Rockwell said.
The loss to Penn State puts Wisconsin a game behind the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten standings.
Throughout the match against Ohio State Friday, Wisconsin dominated on offense and defense. The Badgers out-blocked the Buckeyes 14.5 to 5.5 and had 17 more kills.
“I think we have always been known as a good blocking team,” Dolgner said. “And for us to come out, in this game, as being a really scrappy team shows a lot and that we have a lot of versatility.”
The key for the Badgers was holding Buckeyes’ middle blocker Danielle Meyer to only eight kills. Meyer ranks seventh in the Big Ten, averaging 4.19 kills per game.
“She is not someone you slow down very often,” Waite said. “And I think part of it is because we were serving [well], which kept them out of their offense [and] they weren’t able to get her the ball as much as they would have liked.”
Along with strong defense, the Badgers had to make sure they did not overlook the Buckeyes, who were looking for only their third Big Ten win, in preparation for Sunday’s match against the Nittany Lions. However, Waite said the team was not concentrating on a single match, but the whole season.
“The season means every match, and if you want to win the Big Ten, they knew how important this match would be,” Waite said. “We couldn’t do anything but give it our best and our best focus tonight. So, they really proved that.”
Although the season may come down to the Nov. 16 rematch with Penn State in College Park, players admit every team is competitive in the Big Ten.
“Anything can happen on any night,” senior co-captain Jocelyn Wack said. “And by no means is it out of our reach.”