The Wisconsin volleyball team hopes to build on its first conference winning streak this weekend as the team hits the road to challenge the No. 3 Nebraska Cornhuskers and Iowa Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin (14-5, 2-4 Big Ten) broke a four match losing streak to ranked Big Ten opponents by sweeping the Michigan Wolverines last Sunday.
Nebraska (13-2, 5-1) has won five consecutive matches in Big Ten play with victories over three ranked conference opponents. The Badgers haven’t won a match against the Cornhuskers since 1978, losing 13-straight against them.
While Wisconsin played cleaner volleyball against Michigan – tabbing just 13 errors in the match to Michigan’s 19, head coach Pete Waite said the team cannot afford to make mistakes in its contest with the country’s third-best team.
“We have to be really low error when we play them,” Waite said. “We have to be on top of our game with our serving and keep them out of their offense … it’s a physical team, there’s no doubt about it. But I think when we’re playing good ball, we have a shot at anybody.”
Senior outside hitter and 2011 first team All-Big Ten player Gina Mancuso leads the Cornhusker offensive attack, averaging 3.44 kills and 4.08 points per set, both good for tenth best in league action.
Nebraska boasts another first team All-Big Ten player from last year in senior setter Lauren Cook. She is the reigning Big Ten Setter of the Week, averaging 11.3 assists and 2.1 digs per set in road wins over No. 12 Purdue and Indiana last weekend.
While the Nebraska offense consists of some of the league’s top players, Waite said its most dangerous characteristic is its balance.
“It’s more that they’re balanced, and that’s how good teams win,” Waite said. “They have a good, balanced offense all the time.”
The Badgers have displayed a well-rounded attack of their own. Wisconsin has five players averaging more than two kills per set, headed by sophomore outside hitter Ellen Chapman with 2.92 kills per set.
The 6-foot-5 Chapman said the team’s best bet in knocking out Nebraska is utilizing all aspects of its offense.
“Good serve-receive is the main thing I think,” Chapman said. “Just to start off the play with a good ball can give the setter any hitter, so it’s a lot easier to play the ball to score a point.”
In Wisconsin’s win over Michigan, the team included five players with at least six kills. The Badgers as a team posted a .327 attack percentage – their best clip in Big Ten play this season.
Waite attributed the team’s improving consistency to the effort the players have put into practice. He said the team is more mature this season with the Badger upperclassmen playing a major role in the team’s rotation.
“A lot of the drills we give them, we stack the cards against them,” Waite said. “We make it very difficult to get the win.”
Badgers square off with Hawkeyes in Iowa City
After taking on Nebraska, Wisconsin travels to Iowa City on Saturday to face the surging Hawkeyes.
Iowa (10-9, 2-4) shocked the Big Ten last Saturday when it defeated the No. 12 Purdue Boilermakers in straight sets. Iowa dropped five consecutive matches heading into its road trip against the Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue.
Junior libero Annemarie Hickey said Iowa’s stunning victory gives other unranked teams in the conference, like Wisconsin, confidence to overthrow the Big Ten’s top dogs.
“I kind of respect them for that,” Hickey said. “I think that them going off that win makes me want to beat them more.”
Hickey tallied 33 digs and seven service aces last weekend in matches against Michigan and Michigan State. She ranks second in the league with 4.82 digs per set and is tied for third in conference play with 0.39 aces per set.
Junior outside hitter sophomore Alex Lovell poses as the Hawkeyes’ strongest offensive force. Lovell is averaging 3.34 kills per set on the year, and she accumulated nearly half of her team’s kills in the win over Purdue with 24 on 52 total attacks.
Iowa’s unexpected defeat of Purdue gives Wisconsin even more reason not to overshadow a bottom half conference team.
“We never take teams for granted,” Chapman said. “We can never play down to their level or else we can give up a loss, and that’s happened to us in the past so we always have to play hard no matter who we’re playing.”