The Wisconsin volleyball team knows there’s no such thing as an easy game in the Big Ten.
That’s why the Badgers (15-13, 7-9) are focused on not overlooking Iowa (11-18, 1-15) on a weekend road trip that concludes with a date against No. 4 Nebraska (21-3, 14-2).
While the Badgers play three consecutive ranked teams after the Hawkeyes, UW is wary of the proverbial “trap game” Friday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. While its record may not reflect it, Iowa is still a dangerous team despite its 11-match losing streak. Last week, Iowa took the first two sets against No. 8 Purdue, dropping the match in a five-set heartbreaker.
Wisconsin hopes to come in strong against Iowa before focusing its attention on a trip to Lincoln, Neb.
“We can’t overlook them,” junior Alexis Mitchell said. “They’ve obviously improved a ton, and in our past, Iowa has probably been our least favorite place to play. It’s a tough arena to play in. It’s really big, but there are not a lot of people, so it’s really quiet. We know that they’re capable to do a lot of things to stress us out, so we have to be ready to take care of business. We need to get business done quickly so we can focus on Nebraska.”
The Hawkeyes also have some talented players, as sophomore setter Nikki Dailey currently ranks ninth in the conference in assists per set (9.15) and seventh in service aces per set (0.28). The Hawkeyes also boast a solid defender in Bethany Yeager, as the sophomore defensive specialist currently has the sixth-best digs to set ratio of anyone in the Big Ten (4.27).
“This game is a psychological trap,” head coach Pete Waite said. “We’ve talked to the team about that, and they know that you can’t look at someone’s record. Watching film, Iowa’s improved a lot since the beginning of the season and we can tell that from just watching them and the scores they’ve been putting up. It’s a team that’s hungry for a win with nothing to lose. We’ve got to go in there and go after them early to earn the win.”
After the Badgers battle the Hawkeyes, they will travel further west for a Saturday matchup with one of the premier programs in collegiate volleyball. While the Badgers were swept by the Cornhuskers in their last matchup, Wisconsin will be looking for its fifth upset win of the season.
Nebraska contains one of the most balanced attacks in the conference, as four players average close to more than two kills per set. With an offensive attack led by 2010 AVCA All-American middle blocker Brooke Delano, Nebraska’s attack is the second best in the Big Ten with a .266 hitting percentage. Complementing Delano is junior outside hitter Gina Mancuso, who currently ranks seventh in the conference in kills per set (3.62) and eighth in points per set (4.13). The Badgers will also face the daunting challenge of facing the Huskers at home, where the team is undefeated this season.
“Nebraska’s great and they’ve got a great environment, but it’s like our environment,” Waite said. “It’s very exciting with the crowd size. I know our players won’t have any problem getting up for that match. We’ve played and beaten top teams like Penn State. This team is comfortable in these kinds of matches. When we’re hitting on all cylinders, we’re a team to be reckoned with.”
With only four matches remaining in the season, the Badgers will need to play their best volleyball this weekend and the rest of the season if they hope to bolster their NCAA tournament resume.
“Mental toughness is going to be something really key for our team,” sophomore Annemarie Hickey said. “I think we’ve been going through ups and downs this year. We all want to make that tournament, so we need to give it our all this weekend.”