The Wisconsin women’s volleyball team concluded its home stand with a bittersweet weekend against two strong squads from Michigan.
Wisconsin (15-13, 7-9) couldn’t use the confidence gained by defeating No. 24 Michigan (18-10, 6-10) 3-1 Friday to string together three straight wins as the Badgers fell to Michigan State (19-9 8-8) 3-1 just a day later.
The Badgers started off strong in the first set with a 4-0 run, serving deep and forcing Michigan State out of system. The Spartans quickly closed the gap with a run of their own, sparked by a series of Badger attack errors.
The two teams remained close with 22 tied scores and seven lead changes until a service error from Courtney Thomas gave Michigan State the match point. The Badgers held the Spartans off for two sets before Jenilee Rathje pounded one from the outside to end the set at 25-23.
The Badgers came off a hard fought battle against Michigan just a day earlier and head coach Pete Waite recognized his team’s fatigue.
“I think our team was a little gassed tonight after going hard with Michigan [Friday],” Waite said. “That’s the way our schedule was laid out, we’re going back-to-back and they went Wednesday to Saturday. So it makes a big difference sometimes.”
The Badgers rallied in the second set against the Spartans by increasing their hitting and serving percentages. Despite getting out-blocked 4-0 for the second set in a row, Wisconsin took the lead at 16-15 and never looked back. Two kills from Janelle Gabrielsen, assisted by Thomas, sealed the Badger win at 25-21.
Going into the third set, Thomas was on her way to recording her second-career triple-double. The set was close up through a tie at 7-7 when the Badgers started to pull away. Three Spartan attack errors followed by back-to-back Thomas kills forced a Michigan State timeout at 15-8.
The Spartans came out of the timeout with new energy and capitalized on two kills from Kyndra Abron.
“It really gives their offense a lot of confidence when they are swinging like that and we were just barely missing a lot of those balls,” Waite said. “Some nights, you’re all over it and you time it right and you’re taking the right shots away, and today we just weren’t able to.”
Michigan State took the lead back at 20-19 and never gave it up. Bailey Reshel resisted the Spartan’s surge with two kills, but to no avail, as the Badgers were defeated 25-23.
In the fourth set, the Spartans grabbed the lead right away with a big block from freshman Jazmine White. Three more blocks from White added to the team’s total of six, which significantly shut down the Badgers’ offensive attack as their hitting percentage was minus-0.032.
Michigan State took its biggest lead of the night at 20-11, but despite two 3-0 Badger runs, the Spartans held on to their substantial lead and secured the match with a fourth set to win at 25-17.
“That’s a strong team,” Waite said. “It’s a team of four seniors that have been starting since their freshmen year, so they are really experienced.”
Just a day earlier, Wisconsin defeated its second consecutive ranked opponent in the No. 24 Michigan Wolverines.
The Badgers came out strong in the first set, only losing the lead twice at 1-0 and 2-1. Later, at 14-14, kills by Gabrielsen and Reshel provided the Badgers with some separation that they only continued to increase. Alexis Mitchell got two of her set-high seven kills in the last five points to give Wisconsin the first set 25-18.
The Wolverines’ offense bounced back in the second set. Led by Jennifer Cross and Courtney Fletcher, each of which had five kills, Michigan hit .500. Wisconsin had the lead for most of the set, including a four-point lead at 16-12. The Badgers slowly lost that lead until a kill from Alex Hunt regained the lead for the Wolverines at 21-20, forcing a Wisconsin timeout.
The Badgers were unable to contain the Wolverines offense as kills from Hunt and Cross gave Michigan the 25-21 win.
“When we were up by three or four points, I think we just felt that we had the game already,” Ellen Chapman said. “Finishing is the thing we need to focus on from now on.”
Chapman and the Badgers stepped things up in the third set. The teams traded points nearly the entire set, causing 11 tied scores and five lead changes. At the end, Wisconsin went on a 4-0 run to go up 22-19. Chapman scored four of her match-high 21 kills in the last six points, including the set-winner at 25-21.
Chapman was the closer in the fourth set as well. Like the previous set, the fourth came down to the wire. A kill by Hunt followed by a Gabrielsen attack error increased the Wolverines’ lead to 24-21 and gave them the opportunity to send the match to a fifth set.
However, the Badgers showed resilience and three Chapman kills later, the Badgers took the lead at 25-24. A final Chapman kill at 27-25 provided the set and match win for Wisconsin.
“I think the team is becoming tighter as a unit and they are battling,” Waite said. “That was a great comeback and a great win for us. Just showed a lot of grit on our side of the net.”