There is no better way to start a new season than strong. And that is exactly what the UW volleyball team did Friday night at the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Minneapolis.
After stunning the country as one of the final two contenders for the national championship title last December, the Badgers (1-0 overall) carried their momentum into the new year by sweeping Louisville (25-16, 25-22, 25-17) during their first match.
The new starting libero, Taylor Morey, tallied 16 digs total proving for a solid defense against Louisville’s 34 kills. Louisville to a .217 hitting percentage.
“I thought T did a really good job,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said about Morey’s play. “I would actually like her to cover a bit more ground, be a little more unselfish back there. When she got her arms on the ball, she had a really good match.”
On the offensive side of things, UW was swinging well all night, tallying 46 kills and ending the match with a .305 hitting percentage. Ellen Chapman led the team with 11 kills, followed closely by Courtney Thomas with 10.
At the net, the team was not too aggressive. They finished with only 3 blocks. But sophomore, Haleigh Nelson, contributed 2 blocks of her own to the team’s total.
During the first set, sophomore setter, Lauren Carlini rallied 2 aces, which staked the Badgers to a 5-1 lead early on. Nelson’s two kills put the team up 14-7 and the Cardinals never overcame more than a 5 point deficit the rest of the game.
The other block contributed to UW’s grand total belonged to Chapman during the match’s most intense game. Throughout the second set the Cardinals pulled themselves out from seven points behind to tie the game at 12 a piece. It was due to Chapman’s two kills and her block that helped spur the Badgers forward to victory.
Besides Morey in the back row, Wisconsin also had several other new faces play key roles in the first match of the season-opening win, including freshman Kelli Bates. Bates’ kill in the third set sent the team on a run which gave them a lead of 11-7. Just a few points later, she walloped an ace, putting UW up 14-9.
“She’s a dynamic athlete and it’s going to take her a little time to get her where we need her to go. She adds an element to this team that we really like,” Sheffield said.
Badgers drop Fighting Irish to improve to 2-0
A day later, Wisconsin looked no worse for wear, as it dominated Notre Dame from start to finish in a three-set win.
UW (2-0) coasted to the win without much of a fight from the Fighting Irish behind set wins of 25-16, 25-15 and 25-16.
Once again Ellen Chapman led both teams in kills with her 12, twice as many as Notre Dame’s leading hitter Nicole Smith, who finished with six. Chapman also committed only had one error out of her 25 attempts, a very efficient game for the outside hitter. Kelli Bates reared her head again as she added eight kills of her own to the team’s total. It was the second night in a row in which Bates, the only freshman, was a key asset in the Badgers’ climb towards victory.
“She’s working hard and trying not to be a freshman,” Sheffield said about Bates’ youth. “Everyday she’s getting a little bit better and getting more comfortable. She had a nice day and she should feel good about it. It was a good match for her.”
Wisconsin ruled over Notre Dame defensively with seven total team blocks, compared to 6.5 for the Irish. Taylor Morey, who recorded 15 of the Badgers’ 35 digs, played another big role defensively for Wisconsin as she had done the night before. Due to her strong play, Notre Dame ended with a .100 hitting percentage with only 24 kills against Wisconsin’s 41.
The Badgers dominated nearly every offensive statistic, as they also outscored their opponents in aces (8-2) throughout the match.
“We’re trying to be a team that serves tough for six rotations,” said Sheffield, “We did a good job and we kept pressure on them for the most part tonight.”
In the first set, the team began the game with a substantial lead of 9-1, with the help of 3 aces, which ultimately led them to a 25-16 win.
Just like the previous night, UW had to weather a slight storm in the beginning of set two. It was not until the score was 19-13 that the Badgers started to pull away, due to two errors by Notre Dame as well as kills by Bates and Thompson.
During the third set, more and more players came off the bench with 14 of 15 Badgers seeing action. Once more, Wisconsin pulled away towards victory after Bates scored off of a kill to make the score 12-6.
In a pair of marquee matchups to open the season, UW had very little difficulty dispatching either opponent on the way to two-straight set sweeps, a very strong first impression for a team eyeing a return trip to the National Championship game.