Momentum is a dangerous thing, especially in sports.
It can turn on a dime and blow up in your face, or it could propel a team to a championship.
What the Wisconsin volleyball team showed this weekend was that they have mastered momentum. After all, momentum is a concept taught in Physics courses across the country — it’s a force of nature.
A force of nature is one way to describe how the sixth-ranked Badgers are playing right now.
When UW downed Iowa State in straight sets Friday night, it marked the 14th-consecutive win for the team. If 14 straight wins wasn’t dominant enough, Wisconsin has lost only five sets in that time, with four of those coming against ranked opponents.
“It definitely builds momentum, but at the end of the day, as soon as Big Ten [play] is done and the brackets come out, everyone’s even,” senior libero Taylor Morey said. “It’s 0-0 and you have to refocus on the opponent ahead.”
Sheffield is now three-for-three in reaching Sweet 16s during his time in Madison. The common denominator, he said, is the fact that each team was playing its best volleyball by the time the tournament started.
In 2013, UW entered tournament play winning four of its last five regular season matches. Last season, it won 19 straight matches going into the tournament and eventually won 22 in a row before falling to Penn State in the quarterfinals.
“I think we’ve got a team that believes in itself,” Sheffield said.
Every player is dialed in right now. The stats show it and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know it simply by watching this team.
Lauren Carlini won Big Ten Setter of the Year, but she’s the best setter in the nation — hands down, bar none. That’s not just me saying it, either. Oregon head coach Jim Moore bestowed that distinction upon her Thursday night. Iowa State head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch echoed a similar sentiment the next night.
The offensive attack is incredibly balanced because of her ability. On Friday, Haleigh Nelson and Lauryn Gillis both had seven kills. Romana Kriskova and Kelli Bates had eight kills apiece. Freshman Tionna Williams knocked home a team-high nine. Teams have to defend pin-to-pin against Wisconsin, and Carlini is the main reason for it.
It also helps that her hitters are on their A-game as well. Kriskova keeps swinging a hammer from the right side. Gillis’ finesse, roll shots keep finding the hardwood and Bates consistently flies in from the outside to hammer the ball down. And that’s just from the outside. The tandem of Nelson and Williams is formidable and unpredictable.
The first weekend was a test for the Badgers. Oregon and Iowa State are two teams UW could’ve easily seen during the second weekend, Sheffield said. But the real fun begins now, and the tests get even harder.
No. 11 Florida awaits Wisconsin in Austin, Texas on Friday night. After that, it’ll most likely be Texas, but also the possibility of Michigan or UCLA. Penn State, which has served as UW’s kryptonite the previous two seasons, looms beyond that.
It will not be easy. That much, this young team is wise enough to know. But they’ve got momentum on their side, and it might just lead them to a championship.