Even the University of Minnesota’s squad may have found it hard to believe that last Wednesday’s shocking 3-0 sweep over then-No. 1 University of Wisconsin would end in the commanding fashion that it did.
In last Monday’s polls, the Badgers earned their first No. 1 ranking in program history, but let it slip through their grasp less than 48 hours later. Last Wednesday night’s high-powered matchup featured something that every sports fan lives for: the classic No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle. But the UW Field House’s gold medal-type stage quickly faded to bronze as the Badgers found themselves struggling to compete with a Gophers team in complete control.
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Last Wednesday’s result was a major shift in the landscape of the 2016 college volleyball season. We learned one big development: Move over University of Nebraska, because there’s a new kid on the block in the Big Ten, and it’s Minnesota.
Over the last decade, the college volleyball national championship has historically run through the Big Ten, and after last Wednesday night’s result in Madison, the Big Ten runs through Minnesota. Until Wisconsin or Nebraska can make a significant statement in the next few weeks, there is a mile between the Gophers and the rest of the conference.
Despite the crushing loss to Minnesota at home last week, Wisconsin showed a lot of heart in their most recent game on the road against the University of Michigan. Last Saturday night, UW marched into Ann Arbor looking to answer with a convincing rebound, and did just that in another tight 3-2 win.
Wisconsin came out of the gates firing to take command of the game early and win both the first and second sets 25-20, 25-18 respectively. In surprise swing in momentum, the Wolverines fought back to grab the next two sets 25-17, 25-20 and force a fifth set.
In another sudden turn of events, it appeared as though the Badgers were about to surrender a 2-0 lead on the road and lose a second consecutive game for the first time in over a year. The Badgers, however, managed to recalibrate themselves and showed the Wolverines they were nowhere near out of fight by stealing the final set 15-13 to win the game 3-2 overall.
With a win over then-No. 23 Michigan in Ann Arbor already pocketed, the Badgers have a pivotal shot at redemption quickly approaching. A brutal three-game stretch that may have originally been seen as a curse for the Badgers, is now starting to show signs of becoming a blessing after last Saturday’s resurgence.
After the stunning sweep by Minnesota, there is no better opportunity for Wisconsin to climb right back into the national championship conversation than with a road win over defending national champion and current No. 3 Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers only have one loss on the season so far and the circumstances surrounding their lone stumble should come as a confidence booster for the Badgers heading into Friday night. Ohio State University is the only team who has managed to expose Nebraska this year, and the Buckeyes did so in an impressive fashion by defeating UN 3-1 at home.
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As Wisconsin fans surely remember, the Badgers have already dealt with the Buckeyes this year. Almost a month ago, the Buckeyes came into Madison as the No. 19 team in the country for UW’s Big Ten opener, but were dominated in a 3-0 sweep by the Badgers.
While the whole “who-beat-whom” argument simply flies out of the window the second that each team takes the court to face the other, it never hurts to go into a game with the confidence that a victory against a tough team like Nebraska is well within the cards.
The Wisconsin volleyball team has rolled through their early Big Ten Schedule this season, but the last three games have highlighted some struggles. Yet, the Badgers have still managed to escape this stretch with a 2-1 record, with the single loss coming to the No. 1 team in the nation. This is exactly why the Badgers will have a defining moment under the lights in Lincoln, Nebraska, this Friday night.