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This weekend, the Wisconsin volleyball team will have its home opener at the UW Field House for the Inntowner Invitational.
The Badgers (5-1), who dropped to No. 14 in the AVCA Coaches Poll after a loss at the UNLV Invitational, will face Central Michigan on Friday night. On Saturday, they will play both IUPUI and No. 23 Brigham Young.
“You get to be in an atmosphere you are used to playing,” junior outside hitter Katherine Dykstra said of playing at home. “It’s your fans, and everybody is rooting for you. So it will definitely be a relief to be back home and play in our home stadium.”
Central Michigan, who just won the Country Inn and Suites Championship in Chattanooga, Tenn., will be looking to upset the Badgers going into the first game of the tournament. The Chippewas are lead by senior middle blocker Whitney Evers, who is averaging 3.55 kills per game and a .465 hitting percentage.
“They will bring the heat because we have a big target on our backs,” senior outside hitter Morgan Salow said. “I think they will challenge us to just play our game and stay on our level instead of working down to theirs.”
On Saturday, the Badgers will have to play both IUPUI and Brigham Young. Last year, the Badgers lost to the Cougars on the road in five games. This year, Wisconsin will have to match up against BYU’s stingy defense at home, which averages over 1.00 block per set. BYU is also the first ranked team the Badgers will play this year.
“It’s great playing them at home, and I don’t think there is any extra pressure,” head coach Pete Waite said. “I think the kids get up for a team like that because they know they really have to play their best to get the win.”
On the Wisconsin side of the net, the Badgers will be looking to get the ball to Dykstra, who is having one of the best seasons of her career. Against UNLV last weekend, she had a career-high 21 kills. She is also leading the team in that category, with an average of 3.43 kills per game and a .348 hitting percentage. Dykstra is also leading the team with .90 blocks per game.
Waite attributes her success to the fact she is not only getting really good sets but is also making do with sets that are not on target. Dykstra agrees she is hitting the ball a lot better than last year and connecting well with her setters.
“This is what we were waiting for, and she has been coming on and getting stronger each season,” Waite said.
Also, look for the Badgers to continue mixing up their lineup this weekend. For the past two weekends, they have gone from a one-setter system on offense to using two. This allows Wisconsin to give teams different looks they may not have seen on their scouting reports or on tape.
This weekend the Badgers also have the chance to help Waite reach his 500th win of his career. Since the Madison-area native began coaching at Wisconsin nine years ago, the team is 228-67 and has made nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances. The furthest Waite’s team has ever been in the tournament is the finals, where they lost to Nebraska.
“It would be awesome if we can get Pete [Waite] his 500th win,” Dykstra said. “He has been a great coach, and he has been here for so long, I would love to be part of his 500th win. Hopefully we will be able to do it in front of a great home crowd.”
Whether or not Waite does get his 500th victory this weekend, he will have familiar company in the audience. Becky Olson, Central Michigan’s head coach Erik Olson’s wife, played for Waite during his tenure at Northern Illinois University. Also, IUPUI head coach Steve Payne was an assistant under Waite at NIU.
“It means a lot,” Salow said of Waite’s accomplishments. “It shows how good of a coach he really is and how hard he has worked in his career. It shows he has brought a lot of good people in his program and worked on it really well.”