The University of Wisconsin volleyball team defeated No. 12 Purdue Friday night in five sets at the UW Fieldhouse — recovering from a 0–2 set deficit to start the match.
But outside hitter Molly Haggerty and the rest of the team remained unfazed by the Boilermaker lead.
“Doubt is not in this team’s vocabulary,” Haggerty said.
After the Boilermakers recorded 10 total team blocks and 30 team digs through the first two sets, it looked as if their defense was impenetrable. Purdue outscored the Badgers in both opening sets 25–16 and 25–22, respectively.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. They weren’t going to lay down,” senior Tionna Williams said, reflecting after the Badgers found themselves down 0–2 against a top-15 Big Ten opponent.
At that point, it would have been easy to accept defeat, but head coach Kelly Sheffield’s Badgers did no such thing. With their backs against the wall, Wisconsin came out in the third set firing on all cylinders. When the Badgers found themselves down 14–10 and Purdue still controlled the tempo of the match, Wisconsin knew they had to act.
An eight to zero Badger run sparked by Grace Loberg took the Badgers from a four-point deficit to a four-point lead in the third set. Loberg recorded four kills in this run alone, setting the tone for a dramatic swing in momentum.
Sherridan Atkinson, the go-to hitter for the Boilermakers, battled her squad back into the set, but the Badger run proved to be the difference. With their backs against the wall, the Badgers won the third set 25–23.
But one set was not enough for the Badgers. The team knew that in order to win this match, they would have to win their fourth five-set match of the season. Williams described the intensity of the moment.
“Just looking each other in the eye, you could feel the strength from each one of us out there,” Williams said.
The Badgers were in the contest for the long haul.
The fourth set was all Wisconsin. Building off of the momentum they gained from the third set, the Badgers claimed the fourth set 24–15. They now prepared for a must-win fifth set to 15.
The Badgers got off to an early start and were able to hold the lead through the fifth set with a clutch performance from Williams. The senior recorded three kills and three blocks to propel the Badgers to a massive comeback win, as they took the fifth set 15–10.
When asked to describe where this game ranked in her Wisconsin career, Williams, the lone senior on the team, said it was among the top.
The Badger comeback would not have been possible without pivotal contributions from the back-row, led by libero Tiffany Clark.
“We knew the only way we would win this game was defense,” Clark said, who finished the night with a game-high 25 digs.
After starting off with a .441 hitting percentage, the Boilermaker offense could not overcome a resurgent Badger defense, as their percentage dipped to .040 in the fifth set.
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Other key contributions came from Dana Rettke with 16 kills, Williams with six blocks and Sydney Hilley, who recorded 59 assists.
“I thought the story of this match was our grit,” Sheffield said. “When your back is against the wall, those are the ones that feel so much better. All the credit in the world is to this group.”
It marked the first time the Badger volleyball team has come back from a two-set deficit to win since 1996.