The Wisconsin volleyball team will cap off its spring schedule by hitting the road for the first time this spring to compete in the Minnesota Spring Invitation Saturday at the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis.
Wisconsin will face Minnesota-Crookston, Ohio and tournament host Minnesota-Twin Cities in a two-game match format instead of the standard three out of five game setup.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield believes this weekend is an opportunity for him to form a better picture of his team after all of the hard work the players have put in.
“Some of them are starting to get the accumulated effects of working really hard,” Sheffield said. “Bodies are really sore, and that’s not a bad thing. These guys have been working hard…This weekend allows us to gather more information. There are some positions that are going to be some incredible battles once we get to the fall. The spring allows them to continue to work some of those things out, and to show us what they can do.”
This weekend’s tournament will pose one of the rare occasions in which the Badgers will have to play multiple matches in a day. Wisconsin will first play Minnesota-Crookston at 9 a.m., Ohio at 11:20 a.m. and wrap up the day with Big Ten rival Minnesota at 3:50 p.m.
Sophomore outside hitter Ellen Chapman, who has racked up a team-high 37 kills in 10 sets during the spring season, said players are at a disadvantage at tournaments when they are scrambling from match to match.
“We’re not going to be able to scout and look at the players,” Chapman said. “It’s going to be a little different. If we have down time in the middle, we’ll just stay warm and stay focused.”
Junior libero Annemarie Hickey added that it is especially important for the team to eat properly and get plenty of sleep leading up to a hectic day of volleyball.
Minnesota will be the only conference match Wisconsin will play during the spring. The Gophers finished third in the Big Ten standings with a 15-5 record last season and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament as the eight seed.
Sheffield said that while playing a conference rival in the spring season doesn’t necessarily help Wisconsin improve, playing stiff competition does.
“It’ll be great because obviously [Minnesota] packs a little bit more punch in their swings,” Sheffield said. “They’re a more physical team. When you’re playing somebody that’s very physical, the demands on you are a little bit different.”
Of the other teams Wisconsin will face in the tournament, Ohio has won eight consecutive MAC tournament titles and finished their 2012 season with a 21-10 record and a 14-2 conference mark. Minnesota-Crookston completed last year at 11-16 overall and 7-13 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Sheffield said that he has dedicated much of practice in the past two weeks to defense. Last year, the Badgers ranked third in the conference in blocks and first in digs, with Hickey finishing first in the Big Ten with 4.93 digs per set. Wisconsin also had two players in seniors Alexis Mitchell and Mary Ording who individually contributed over a block per game, both good for a top ten spot in the league.
Sheffield also said that he will experiment with different lineups and formations on the court this weekend in order to find the best system for his team.
“In the fall, there’s a lot of prep work that goes into your opponents,” Sheffield said. “In the spring, we’re worried about ourselves … We’re just trying to get a little better right now. We’ll put some different lineups out there. Some different people will be able to get the opportunity to play, whether it’s a [different] position or alongside some different folks. That just gives us more information.”
Hickey said that playing Minnesota will allow Wisconsin to show a league rival the improvements that the team has made since the fall, but expects that other Big Ten teams have made changes during the offseason.
Hickey also said that even with the last day of official team spring practice approaching next Thursday, it is important that the Badgers continue to practice at full speed.
“I think a lot of people expect every team to get kind of tired down towards the end of spring season,” Hickey said. “I think one thing we’re trying to focus on is we’re still going every day in practice but still trying to maintain that high level of competition.”