The Wisconsin women’s volleyball team finished 1-1 this weekend in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with a 2-3 loss to the University of North Carolina and a 3-0 win over the University of Louisville.
Friday night’s high-powered matchup against North Carolina was a tough one to stomach for Wisconsin. After dropping the first set 25-23, the Badgers stormed back to take a brief 2-1 lead, but they ultimately lost the next two sets. The Badgers narrowly fell 3-2 by a total scoring differential of only seven points between the five sets played. The loss to UNC was the first time the Badgers had dropped more than one set in a match this season.
The roller coaster of a loss to the No. 11 Tar Heels was the first of the season for the Badgers, leaving the squad at 6-1 after the third week of the year.
Friday’s game was ultimately decided by a battle at the net, an area where the Tar Heels thrive. UNC delivered when it came to upholding its title as the nation’s top blocking team by outblocking and outhitting the Badgers 17-13 and 71-59, respectively. Each squad had three players in double digits, culminated by Tar Heel redshirt sophomore Taylor Heath who finished with 23 kills in the nail-biting showdown.
The Badger hitters reeled this weekend following the loss of UW’s second-leading hitter and outside hitter Lauryn Gillis, who missed both games after suffering sprained ankle last week. Gillis’ absence forced fellow junior Kelli Bates to start at the net for the first time this season, which created a ripple effect as freshman M.E. Dodge had to come off the bench to fill in for Bates at the libero position.
Despite Wisconsin’s struggles Friday, the Badgers would go on to split the weekend after rebounding with a close win over Louisville. Freshman phenom and outside hitter Molly Haggerty was reduced to a spectator in Saturday’s match alongside her teammate Lauren Gillis, after she too suffered a partially sprained ankle late in Friday’s game. Due to these injuries, Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield had to dig into a more inexperienced bench to hold off several vicious, late-set comebacks by the Cardinals.
While the roster saw plenty of youth throughout the game, upperclassman leaders Romana Kriskova and Haleigh Nelson stepped up to secure the tough 3-0 sweep. Senior Lauren Carilini recorded her second double-double of the weekend and 61st of her career against Louisville, tying the record for most by any Badger in program history.
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Carilini and Sheffield were both pleased with the team’s response and effort Sunday but are eager for the return of Gillis and Haggerty with Big Ten play steadily approaching.
The Badgers will head to the Lone Star State this weekend for a two-game stint against No. 16 Texas A&M Friday and No. 3 Texas Sunday.
For a team looking to prove themselves after an early stumble last weekend, the Badgers’ Texas road trip could be a great chance to gain confidence and climb back in the saddle toward national contention.