Stamped with bright red ink on the wall leading down to the University of Wisconsin volleyball locker room, the phrase “Beware of the Badgers” contrasts vividly with the pale white wall. The Badgers will hope to live up to that motto when they travel to Minnesota Wednesday to take on the Golden Gophers (15-4, 6-2 Big Ten).
In the duel between Iowa and Wisconsin Saturday, Hawkeye outside hitter Alex Lovell had a stellar performance as she posed a dangerous threat at the net throughout the game for Iowa. The feisty Badgers, being tied two games to two games, never let up. They fought hard and stole game five to get the conference win. The fresh Wisconsin volleyball team had a sense of flow and “got stronger as the match went on,” head coach Pete Waite said.
After this exciting and successful five-game match against the Iowa Hawkeyes (10-11, 2-6 Big ten), the Badgers now head to Minneapolis preparing to play the 10th-ranked team in the NCAA, the Gophers.
The Badgers have high expectations going into their next conference match.
“A team like Minnesota will try to push [us] around a little bit with their serve and either ace [us] or keep [us] out of system,” Waite said. “If we can stay in system and we are comfortable with it, we’re good.”
For the Badgers, playing the Gophers is the ultimate matchup.
Both teams have competed against Iowa and Nebraska (15-2, 7-1 Big Ten) in their last two conference matchups. Nebraska snatched the win away from the Gophers, as well as the Badgers, but both teams continued onward to beat the Hawkeyes, who are currently on a two-game losing streak after an impressive win over 12th-ranked Purdue earlier this year.
Wisconsin has been focusing heavily on the defensive aspect of the match in preparation for its border battle with Minnesota.
“They’ve got a lot of really outstanding hitters,” Waite said. “If we can keep them off the net, they can’t get it to their middle, Tori Dixon, who’s phenomenal, and that will be a big key. If we can keep them out of system, we’ll have a shot.”
A game plan of exposing Minnesota’s weaknesses will be key for a UW team seeking its fourth conference win.
Gopher junior middle blocker Tori Dixon stands 6 feet 3 inches tall. She is one of the main weapons the Gophers will use in the matchup with the Badgers Oct. 17. The talented Dixon has tallied a total of 63 blocks already this season and averages 3.1 kills each set.
Although Dixon may be a threat, Waite said he believes in the Big Ten “There are so many phenomenal teams, you have to be ready for each one.”
The Wisconsin Badgers, coming off an important win, have the momentum coming into this week’s competition. Regardless of Minnesota’s dominant players, Wisconsin has a number of its own threats.
Senior Alexis Mitchell has been a great factor in the success of the Badgers this season. She recently hit a milestone of 800 kills this season as an outside hitter, which clearly has added to the team’s success. Having a dependable source to feed the ball to is key to a high-functioning offense.
Errors are inevitable in any match of volleyball, but as the team gains experience, the number of errors it commits has gone down.
“[Our] attacking errors have gone down this season,” Waite said. “[We] have really improved a lot that way. [We] are one of the top teams in the Big Ten as far as blocking.”
Badger sophomore outside hitter Ellen Chapman hit a career milestone of 100 blocks this year, an intimidating statistic for other Big Ten teams.
Defense has been a strong suit for UW this year. Not only are blocks a huge factor, but serve receptions and digs are the base to any good defense. Junior libero Annemarie Hickey tallies a total of 4.74 digs per game, and each dig is clutch for running Wisconsin’s fast offense.
Still, despite the difficult matchup Minnesota poses, Waite said he believes UW has the tools to perform well against any team it faces.
“I think [we] have a good mindset,” Waite said. “[We] are going not just to show that [we] can play with a team like this, but [we] can beat a team like this.”