Last year, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team lost six consecutive Big Ten games, yet still managed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
With the volleyball team’s losing streak having reached five games, the Badgers hope they can mirror what Bo Ryan’s squad did last spring. To do that, however, they must win their remaining four games, and it all starts tonight on the road against Northwestern.
The Badgers’ five-game slide, the program’s worst streak since it lost seven straight matches in 1995, pushed UW under the .500 mark for the first time since Sept. 26, when the team was 5-6.
Now sitting at 11-14 and 6-9 in Big Ten play, the volleyball team must finish the season with a record above .500 to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Simply put, with four matches remaining on their schedule, the Badgers know they don’t have any room for error.
“We still have a chance to get into the tournament, we have to win the next four,” co-captain Caity DuPont said. “We’re just focusing on finishing the season strong, we have to be really disciplined and take care of our side of the net.
“We need this. We need all four wins to get there, but at the same time we have to stay relaxed, otherwise we won’t play to the best of our abilities.”
Friday, the Badgers will take on the Northwestern Wildcats, a squad they already beat in four sets earlier this season. However, at that point, the Badgers were sitting in the middle of the pack in the conference, while the loss sent Northwestern to 2-8 in the Big Ten, good for second to last place.
Now, while the Badgers hold a one-game lead over Northwestern in the conference standings, after losing five straight the team will face the challenge of taking on the Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan Arena, where NU holds a 6-4 record.
The Wildcats are led by Sabel Moffett, who averages 3.35 kills per set — by far the most on the Northwestern squad. UW senior Brittney Dolgner believes if the Badgers can shut her down, they will have a big advantage over their conference opponent.
“They have some fast middles, I think once we get up on [Moffett] and shut her down, I think we’ll be fine,” Dolgner said. “They’re a good serve-receive team, but I think that if we exploit their weaknesses, we’ll have a good shot to win.”
On Saturday, the Badgers will face No. 5 Illinois, a team that beat the Badgers in four sets on Oct. 23. However, the Illini will be without their star libero Ashley Edinger, who recently tore her ACL.
But while UW will look to exploit that aspect of the Illini defense, Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite has no reason to believe Illinois will be anything short of an immense challenge for his struggling squad.
“You might think you can exploit that, but they’ve obviously had some solid wins since she went down,” Waite said. “Edinger’s injury is unfortunate; we have a lot of players who know her and we know how much of a loss that is for them.”
In terms of overcoming the team’s recent struggles, the one glaring statistic in every Badger loss during the losing streak has been the appalling number of attack errors, many of which have been unforced. During the streak, UW has totaled 141 attack errors compared to 207 kills during that same time span. Waite knows that to finish the season on a strong note, that trend must be reversed immediately.
“They know the situation and they’re doing everything they can to come out with a victory,” Waite said. “The biggest goal for us is to keep our unforced errors down. If we do that, we can play with anybody and we can play some very good ball.”
But while the team must win its four remaining games to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament, according to Waite, that thought hasn’t been in the minds of his players. According to the head coach, he and his staff have been encouraging the team to focus on the positives from earlier in the season, when it beat teams ranked as high as No. 8 in the country.
“We actually do our best to distract them from the losses and try to help them still improve as a team,” Waite said. “The mind is a funny thing and sometimes you can get wrapped up in the bad things you’ve done, when there are a lot of good things you’ve done too. … We’ve played some really good ball, and we’re just stressing to do the good things you’ve been doing, and we have a shot at these teams.”