The No. 9 University of Wisconsin volleyball team has a tough week ahead of them as they look to take on Penn State and Northwestern.

After having an up-and-down start to the Big Ten season, Wisconsin won three matches in a row, including one over then-No. 4 Nebraska. That streak broke last week against then-No. 5 Minnesota, when the Badgers fell to the Gophers in four sets.

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Wednesday, the Badgers travel to No.1 Penn State, a team they have traditionally struggled against, especially in University Park. The Nittany Lions lead the Badgers 24-1 at home, with Wisconsin’s last win against Penn State six years ago. 

In both 2013 and 2014, Penn State crushed Wisconsin’s hopes of winning a national championship. The Nittany Lions, on the other hand, have won seven national championships between 1999 and 2017, including four years in a row from 2007 to 2011 and two back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014 when they defeated Wisconsin and BYU, respectively.

Penn State wants to return to the top. They are currently at the top of the Big Ten standings and are looking to make a run deep into December with the goal of winning their eighth national championship.

They have experienced and talented players in each position, and they are hard to slow down. Senior middle blocker Haleigh Washington leads the conference in hitting percentage at .515. She also adds an impressive 2.97 kills and 1.41 blocks per set.

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Fortunately for the Badgers, our very own Dana Rettke ranks second in the conference in hitting percentage at .459. She also averages around 3.37 kills per set, which is better than Washington.

The fabulous 6’8 freshman middle blocker is coming off performances that earned her both Big Ten player and Big Ten freshman of the week. She had 22 kills and no errors at Minnesota, giving her a hitting percentage of .647.

She also had 14 kills at Maryland, which helped her earn the Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor the next week. The key to getting Rettke and junior middle blocker Tionna Williams going is good passing momentum going off of a Penn State service.

On Saturday, Northwestern comes to the Field House for the first meeting of the two teams this season. The Wildcats lead the Big Ten in services aces with 1.72 per set. While they might lead in service aces, Northwestern is somehow currently 2-8 in the Big Ten.

Their two wins come from matches against a struggling Rutgers team and Indiana. For Northwestern to defeat Wisconsin they will need to serve tough enough to get the Badgers out of system and play good enough defense to prolong rallies.

Northwestern will have a difficult time getting first chance kills because of Wisconsin’s block and the outstanding defense by sophomore libero Tiffany Clark.

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It is easy to see how the Badgers have played the second hardest schedule in the country. They have already played eight top 20 teams this season, all but one of those matches coming from the Big Ten Season. As the second half of the Big Ten season begins, the Badgers will look to improve upon their 5-5 conference record.

Wisconsin’s series against Penn State begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, and fans can catch the game on either BTN Plus or on 100.9 FM. Saturday’s contest begins at 7 p.m. here in Madison, and since football is away this weekend, fans should head on over to the Field House for their weekly Wisconsin fix.