Back from another weekend on the road, the Wisconsin volleyball team leveled out its conference road record to 2-2 after losing in three sets to No. 3 Nebraska Friday and beating a tough Iowa team in a five-set battle Saturday.
Despite the split, head coach Pete Waite, whose team now sits at 15-6 overall, and 3-5 in Big Ten play, was happy with the team’s play and its ability to bounce back.
“We saw some good things coming off the loss, rebounded with a win at Iowa, so I thought that was good,” Waite said at his press conference Monday.
On Friday, the Cornhuskers (14-2, 6-1 Big Ten) demonstrated why they are the third-ranked team in the nation, as they swept the unranked Badgers. The close defeat that Wisconsin suffered in the first-set (25-22) seemed to carry over into the second, as Wisconsin found themselves down early 9-1.
Although the Badgers tried to battle back, the early deficit proved too large to overcome as they lost the second set 25-15. The third set was not any different, as the Cornhuskers closed out the Badgers 25-20.
The game against the Cornhuskers marked the fifth time in six games where Wisconsin has faced a ranked team.
“I think Big Ten conference play is tough,” Waite said. “We have a lot of ranked teams every weekend.”
Despite the tough schedule, Wisconsin bounced back to beat Iowa (10-11, 2-6) with strong individual performances and a dominant fifth set. After battling back and forth all night, the fifth set opened with a 3-3 tie until the Badgers began to take over, opening up a 9-3 lead off five-straight serves from sophomore setter Courtney Thomas.
The Badgers closed out the set 15-10, as sophomore outside hitter Ellen Chapman recorded her 20th kill of the night. Strong play from senior Mary Ording also played a key role in the win over a stingy Hawkeyes team.
Waite commented on the importance of such strong individual performances.
“Ellen Chapman is doing some very good things for us on the outside,” he said. “Courtney Thomas had a great day on Sunday, Mary Ording in the middle, who you know we put there just this fall really came on this weekend with her offense, so that was really good.”
The Badgers will be looking for their top players to come through as they look ahead to playing at Minnesota (15-4, 6-2) Wednesday and hosting Indiana (8-12, 0-8) Friday.
Although the Badgers won’t be fighting for an axe against the Gophers, they will be hoping to win the border battle as they face a top 10 team whose new head coach, Hugh McCutcheon, recently served as the U.S. women’s national team coach at the London Olympics.
“He’s in there and he’s doing a good job already,” Waite said of McCutcheon. “But the program is already well established … Minnesota is very, very strong so it’s going to be a tough environment up there but we’ll be ready to go.”
After the tough road game, Wisconsin will be hoping to win one at home against a struggling Indiana team. The Badgers will have to work hard to contain junior outside hitter Jordan Haverly, who has led the Hoosiers’ offense for the last two seasons.
Friday also marks the breast cancer awareness match, which holds very important significance to this Wisconsin team.
“It’s something that is big for our players every year,” Waite said. “They actually talk about it well ahead of time and we often have a guest that sits behind our bench for that match. It’s just so important to raise awareness for everyone and such an important topic for women everywhere. So it’s a big night for us, for the match and for the breast cancer awareness.”
The Badgers have now played half of their conference season and UW’s head coach says they have continued to progress as a team.
“Overall I think we’re very high in blocking and defense in the conference,” Waite said. “For us in blocking the last few years we’ve been up there in the top half of the conference and now we’re leading the conference so I think that’s really good progress.”