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The Badgers are looking to end the spring season on a winning note.[/media-credit]

While spring is not usually known as volleyball season for the Wisconsin volleyball team, it is the perfect time to get in some extra practice before next fall.

This Saturday, the Badgers will be competing in the UNI Spring Tournament in Cedar Falls, Iowa for their last exhibition matches of the spring. This tournament is the final chance for the team to tune things up in competition before the official season starts in the fall.

Even though it is an exhibition tournament, these matches still play an important role in allowing players to work on their weaknesses and sharpen the team as a whole.

“We have been working really hard to improve just every part of our game,” senior libero Kim Kuzma said. “We have been working really hard on passing, so I guess serving and passing is what we’re really focusing on.”

UW will put in a long day Saturday, playing five matches against Missouri, Iowa, Iowa State, North Dakota State, and Northern Iowa. Unlike most of the Badgers’ matches, which are either three sets or five sets, the matches in this tournament will only last two sets.

Over spring break, the team took a trip to California, which was highlighted by getting to watch the USA national team play. After watching them and playing four of their own matches during the trip, the Badgers feel like they are ready for their final spring tournament.

“I think the players came back [after spring break] with a real renewed interest in improving their games and really I think from the beginning to end of the spring they’ve made some big strides,” head coach Pete Waite added.

Possibly the most valuable aspect of the UNI Spring Tournament is that it includes a crucial matchup against Iowa. A fellow Big Ten opponent that the volleyball team will surely face next year, that match offers valuable experience for next season.

Despite the tough competition at the tournament, one of the biggest concerns of the Badgers is that they will hurt themselves with too many self-inflicted mistakes.

“Our biggest enemy is us, ourselves, you know, making unforced errors and kind of getting in our own heads,” sophomore outside hitter Kirby Toon said. “I think that it’s just really important for us to stay focused, go into each game with the same mentality and stay consistent.”

In terms of preparation for the match, the Wisconsin volleyball team is sticking to its usual spring routine.

Much like football, spring is prime training time for the volleyball team. With lengthy practices focusing on drills and conditioning, the Badgers are hoping the work put in now will help them out on the court when fall rolls around.

“Every day we come in the gym and work hard,” Toon said. “Everyone’s improving every day, so [the spring season] has been really good.”

Just as important to success at the tournament in Cedar Falls is the team’s mental mindset going into matches. The volleyball squad believes this part of the game is key in avoiding unnecessary errors in this tournament and in the future.

The team is relying on senior leadership from players such as Kuzma, a co-captain, to provide the positive mental state and energy critical to success on the court.

“We’ve been working on that a lot this spring too, about just having a good mental attitude and not getting down on ourselves,” Kuzma said. “If we play how we know we can and we don’t get down on ourselves, we have a chance of doing well.”

With a theme of “finish strong” this week, the team is hoping for a strong showing in this match that will carry over to next fall. Exhibition matches such as this one are about more than one more number in the win column — they are about becoming a better team, one ready for the games that really count.

Based on what has been seen so far, the UW volleyball team has high hopes for next year. If the team plays to its potential, the UNI Spring Tournament could secure that positive mindset it often found itself searching for this fall.

“This kind of lets them gauge where they are and their progress from last fall,” Waite said. “I truly believe from what I’ve seen in practices so far we’re a better team than we were last November.”