Coming off their second-longest road trip, the Badgers have something to smile about.
While the first two tournaments of the road trip were marked with close losses, the Badgers pulled out the brooms to sweep all three of their matches on their way to winning the Art Carmichael Invitational in Kingston, Rhode Island.
The Badgers never lost a single set at the tournament, bringing their record at the end of the nine game road trip to 6-3.
It was a major step forward for head coach Pete Waite to see his squad steadily improving throughout the duration of a long journey away from Madison.
“I saw progress from our first through our third weekend, especially in the way our group is coming together,” Waite said. “Just the fact that we’ve had young players on the court as freshmen, it takes time to get a feel for each other. I think they’re starting to gel better and play better together, understanding the concepts that we’ve given to them in practices. I was happy to see they played a higher level of ball this last weekend then they had the first two.”
The Badgers have been seeking to improve on winning close sets, an area that haunted the team throughout last season. The team put away some of those demons in Rhode Island.
“There were times in some of the matches where they were put in stressful situations and they stayed composed,” Waite said. “We went into extra points in the third set against Rhode Island and they were never fazed, they kept plugging away until they got the break they needed.”
One Badger effort in particular that was recognized was freshman Courtney Thomas, who was named tournament MVP for her 29 kills in the three matches, including an 11 kill, 21 assist effort against Columbia in the final match of the tournament, giving the freshman her third double-double of the year.
For Thomas, a key new player that is still recovering from a battle with mono this past summer, the award is an honor but nothing to dwell on.
“I’m happy about it, but I’m still the same player,” Thomas said. “It’s an accomplishment, but that doesn’t change how hard the team works. I play for my team and not myself. It feels good though to be recognized for your performance.”
Thomas’ teammates and coach, however, were not so shy about giving the freshman high praise.
“Courtney came in from a great club and was ready to compete and ready to play,” senior Janelle Gabrielsen said. “Every time she’s out there she’s yelling and talking and most the time when you’re dealing with freshmen they’re quiet and timid. I think she’s going after it and that’s only helped us.”
“I think it’s great for Courtney’s confidence, but she’s also a very composed and poised player on the court and that’s a big part of her success,” Waite said. “She’s well rounded in all the skill areas; it’s something she’s working hard for and she’s found she’s become a very good weapon in a lot of different ways.”
With Thomas only one of the new faces in the Badger lineup, the tournament victories are adding to the confidence of the players throughout the matches leading up to Big Ten play. Another underclassman who is providing the Badgers with terrific play is sophomore Annemarie Hickey, who recorded 47 digs throughout the weekend matches.
Hickey, who made the switch to the libero position this year, has kept the Badgers running with her solid play all over the floor.
“I love the new position,” Hickey said. “I mean, I always have loved defense; I was an outside hitter before the shift this year. I know what I need to do; I need to dig every ball and pass perfectly. I’m still working on it because I’m only a sophomore and I think I’ve been doing an alright job so far and I’ve been getting by with my teammates great play.”
“They’re starting to understand how to flow together as a team and that’s the important part,” Waite said. “Once they start doing that we’ll become much tighter as a unit and be able to achieve much greater heights.”