In a match that the Badgers looked to control after dominating the first set, the University of Wisconsin volleyball team lost its sense of focus and team chemistry as it crumbled in a four-set loss to the last place Indiana Hoosiers Friday night.
After ending the first set on a 19-8 run, Wisconsin (15-8, 3-7 Big Ten) dropped three straight sets to the Big Ten bottom-feeders as unusual mental mistakes like lack of focus and miscommunication plagued UW.
“There were more than normal, and I don’t have an answer for that,” head coach Pete Waite said. “Some people were just hesitating … normally they blend better together and they communicate a little bit better, but for some reason, it just wasn’t happening in a few points.”
Although Indiana finds itself in last place in the conference, the team has won its last two matches against Big Ten opponents after losing its first eight league contests. The Hoosiers defeated the then-No. 17 Purdue Boilermakers in four sets Oct. 16 for their first conference victory.
The Badgers’ lack of chemistry ruined their chances of finding an offensive flow. While Wisconsin had a .429 attack percentage in the first set with 16 kills, the team could only muster clips of .128 and .069 in the second and fourth sets, with a lower success rate on side-out plays.
Both teams struggled to play clean offensively throughout the match, with the Badgers committing 22 errors and Indiana totaling 21.
Senior middle blocker Alexis Mitchell said the team is at its best when individual players are loose. However, she said it is difficult to relax when playing from behind in sets.
“I think we just put pressure on ourselves when we get in holes and then you do tense up normally when you’re putting pressure on yourselves,” Mitchell said. “We just have to find a way to let that pressure go and play our game even when we’re down … We have to work on getting a fast start so that pressure isn’t even existent.”
The Badgers found themselves down by three points in the first, second and fourth sets before either team had even reached double-digit points.
In recent matches, Wisconsin has been able to mount comebacks after falling behind early, but Waite said it’s challenging to pick up the momentum mid-set.
“We seem to be starting from behind and then gaining momentum and getting going, but that’s draining,” Waite said. “It can be pretty exhausting doing that all the time.”
The bright spot for Wisconsin on offense came in the play of sophomore outside hitter Ellen Chapman. The 6-foot-5 attacker set a new career-high with 24 kills on a .390 hitting percentage, adding 11 kills in the third set alone.
Courtney Thomas also chipped in 51 assists and 10 digs in her 11th double-double of the season.
Defense shows signs of improvement
The Wisconsin defense wasn’t free of its fair share of mistakes, but showed flashes of effective play.
Sophomore defensive specialist Deme Morales and junior outside hitter Julie Mikaelsen set career-highs in digs with 18 and 15, respectively. Mikaelsen also contributed 11 kills to record her first career double-double.
However, there were a number of occasions in which the Badger back row let balls go that fell inbounds. Players also lost opportunities to pick up stray balls because of miscommunication.
Junior libero Annemarie Hickey, who led the Badgers with 19 digs, said defensive players needed to be more assertive going after balls.
“We just need to be aggressive,” Hickey said. “We can’t be looking at balls … one person needs to go for it … We’re doing a great job of working around together, it’s just those little spurts of where we are watching those balls that we need to fix.”
Wisconsin allowed 11 aces on Indiana service attempts. The loss was the second straight UW gave up double-figure service aces. The Badgers’ receiving percentage was just .882 for the match with 11 errors, compared to their season average of just under five receiving errors per match.
Waite said Wisconsin’s serve-receive has been something the team has worked on in practice, yet has struggled with come game day.
“I think it was a case where they [Indiana] did a good job moving the ball around on the serve short [and] deep,” Waite said. “They were really hitting their lines on a lot of their shots, and I thought they covered really well [on our blocking] … [it was] definitely frustrating.”