Iowa entered Wednesday night’s matchup at the Field House with the Big Ten’s top statistical defense and it showed in the Hawkeyes’ victory over the Badgers.
Wisconsin struggled to score against Iowa, especially in the fourth set, which they lost 25-18 to end the match three sets to one. And though the Wisconsin defense finished with one more dig (50 to Iowa’s 49), the Hawkeyes often seemed to be in better position than the Badger defense.
“It’s not just that they were making digs, I think they were quality digs,” Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite said. “They were getting it right on target so they could run their offense. I think that’s something we weren’t doing. Even though we might’ve gotten one more dig, we were off the net more; we weren’t running our quick offense as much.”
Iowa’s ability to counter the Badgers’ attack led to a long night for Wisconsin. On one side of the ball, the UW offense struggled to convert on its chances, finishing with a .170 hitting percentage.
Waite thinks it had just as much to do with his team’s offensive struggles, however, as with the Hawkeyes’ defense.
“I think it was more our shot selection,” Waite said. “We went right at their libero crosscourt quite a bit, but when we were swinging line we were scoring quite a bit more.”
As a team, Iowa had 15 blocks to just three for Wisconsin, making it difficult for UW to get in any type of rhythm offensively. The blocking was a team effort for Iowa — which is not exactly the tallest team — as all but three players to play for the Hawkeyes had at least one assisted block.
“They’re scrappy,” outside hitter Allison Wack said. “It’s difficult when you’re taking your heavy swings and they’re just digging some balls, but we just tried our best to stay composed and keep going after them. They played great defense.”
Defensively, Wisconsin had a difficult time stopping Iowa outside hitters Emma Krieger Kittle and Megan Schipper as well as setter Aimee Huffman and middle blocker Becky Walters. Overall, Iowa finished with a .275 hitting percentage.
Walters had the best hitting percentage for Iowa on the night, finishing at .478 while leading the Hawkeyes with 12 kills. She also added three solo blocks on the night.
“Obviously, Walters did really well,” Waite said. “(She had) a high hitting percentage out of the middle, and we had trouble stopping. So, you know, that says a lot number one for the defense.”
Schipper entered the contest leading the Hawkeyes offensively with 151 kills, and average of 3.6 per set. The 5-foot-11 senior played a big role defensively as well, as she finished with 11 kills to go along with 10 digs.
She finished with just a .147 hitting percentage, however, something Waite believed was a credit to his defense.
“Really, a .147 hitting percentage, that’s pretty low, so I think we did contain her pretty well,” Waite said. “I think she just got stronger and the match went on and got more of her kills later on.”
Toon shines in front of family and friends
With her family watching from the middle of Section E at the Field House, freshman Kirby Toon had a strong game for Wisconsin, finishing second to Wack with 13 kills on 36 attempts for a .222 hitting percentage.
Even her father Al, a former receiver for Wisconsin and the New York Jets, and brother Nick, Wisconsin’s current top receiver, made an appearance at the game, coming directly from football practice next door. To top it off, the duo was featured on court on the Big Ten Network during the intermission.
So though she treated the game no differently than any other, the Toon family certainly made its presence felt Wednesday night.
“I kind of tried to block out any outside influences,” Toon said. “I think mentally, maybe in the back of my mind having them there supporting me is good. But I really just try to go out there and focus and play my game regardless of who’s out there.”
Of course, the rare occasion when the entire Toon family is able to attend one of her games is certainly enjoyable for the freshman walk-on from Middleton.
“It’s always awesome — my whole family was here today,” Toon said. “It was really cool that they were all able to coordinate with their schedules. It’s very rare that everyone gets to get to one place at one time now since everyone’s so busy.”