The University of Wisconsin volleyball team is currently riding a high with their sixth consecutive victory.
Sunday’s 25-12, 25-13, 25-17 sweep over Michigan State (14-11 overall, 6-8 Big Ten) marked the two teams’ first and only meeting of the season — a meeting the Spartans will wish to forget.
Wisconsin improved to 18-6 overall, 10-4 Big Ten to take sole-ownership of fourth place, three wins behind conference-leading Minnesota.
Out of the gate, the Badgers held their foot on the gas pedal and never let up. Up 14-3 in the first set, Wisconsin rode serving streaks by Lauren Carlini, Kelli Bates and Haleigh Nelson. The Badgers’ dominance was emphasized by the fact that the Spartans’ only points were products of service errors from the three.
The Badgers as a unit hit at .360 percent and a 76 percent side-out in the set, discouraging the Spartans who hit at an abysmal -.227 percent. The team would continue to dominate for the remaining two sets.
Wisconsin finished with a hitting percentage of .365, eight blocks, three serving-aces and 29 digs, holding the Spartans to hitting at just .012 percent on the match.
Carlini tallied 33 assists, Nelson finished with seven kills, four assisted and three unassisted blocks and a hitting percentage of .583. Freshman Tionna Williams continued an impressive run with eight kills and a hitting percentage of .545.
Offensive Player of the Game: Haleigh Nelson
Nelson’s seven kills and efficient attacking play (.545 hitting percentage) were the focal point of an offense that prided itself on efficiency during the match.
The 6-foot-4 middle blocker found a rhythm early on and couldn’t be phased. The Badgers spread the Spartans’ front line leaving her open for some timely kills, made more dangerous by the power she got on the shots. Her 12 attempts were not wasted, connecting on seven of them, and her service game (one ace, .923 serving percentage) provided the Badgers with momentum and a steady, reliable source to put the ball in play.
Defensive Player of the Game: Haleigh Nelson
The Spartans will be remembering Nelson’s name for a long time after this match. The junior tallied three solo blocks and four blocking assists, as well as two digs. As much as she was able to ditch the Michigan State front line on offense, they couldn’t ditch her when it was their turn to hit.
For the first two sets, she tallied one solo block and two assisted blocks in each set. The first set saw all three blocks come within the first nine points, a major reason for the large, early lead Wisconsin held. Her performance in the next two sets kept Michigan State’s hitters in check and deflated their attack down to their lowest hitting percentage of the afternoon.
A six-point run by the Badgers midway through the second set gave them a 15-8 lead. The lead established by the run solidified their stranglehold on the match and pointed to signs that the team has in fact matured and left behind the days of letting teams back into matches after impressive opening sets.
When You Knew It Was Over
A crucial service error by Michigan State’s Sarah Washegesic to open the third set gave the ball right back to Wisconsin, and the Badgers used the momentum changer to jump to a quick lead and never looked back.
UW head coach Kelly Sheffield on the team’s passing:
“I thought we passed great. I thought that was our best passing match of the season … they didn’t really get on any runs, and I think a big part of that was our ball control was really solid. We were able to follow the game plan. We got our outsides involved early in the match and kind of loosened up that block and spread out a little bit. And we got our middles going.”
Williams on the team’s comfort level:
“We can’t be comfortable where we’re at right now. We have to keep pushing every day to get better.”
Lauryn Gillis on the team’s growing maturity:
“It’s showing that we are getting better at playing well for really long periods of time rather than having our roles of being great and being not so great. It’s a sign of our improvement and how we’re evolving.”