Number 9 ranked Wisconsin (4-2) boasts one of the greatest home environments in NCAA volleyball. The Badger faithful pack the Wisconsin Field House every night with the second-highest attendance in the NCAA in 2018.
But due to a relentless early schedule, the University of Wisconsin volleyball team (4-2) is in danger of entering Big Ten play without a home victory. Wisconsin has managed to win at least one non-conference home game every year for more than three decades, so a loss in their final home game against Washington would break that streak.
The Badgers come off of a tournament win at the Clemson Classic where they swept both the University of South Carolina and Clemson University.
The No. 10 Washington Huskies provide a much tougher task for the Badgers. The Huskies are 7-1 with impressive wins against No. 15 Creighton and No. 19 Illinois. Their lone loss came on the road against No. 13 Hawai’i — a raucous environment similar to the Wisconsin Field House.
Washington possesses a balanced attack with five hitters averaging more than 2.5 kills/set. The Badgers only have three such hitters in Dana Rettke, Grace Loberg and Molly Haggerty.
For Washington, 10 of their players competed in 17 or more sets proving their depth amidst a tough non-conference schedule.
Senior outside hitter Kara Bajema leads the Huskies with 4.63 kills/set and notched a spot on the 2018 AVCA All-American Third Team.
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Wisconsin’s size-based attack will be tested against a Washington team that has some size of their own with 6-foot-4 Lauren Sanders likely facing Rettke at middle blocker. Rettke continued to dazzle this weekend, recording team-high kills in both matches.
Perhaps a return to their serving prowess could be critical in the two match-ups with Washington. The Huskies have allowed 1.03 service aces/set, and freshman Izzy Ashburn has led the Badgers with a stunning 0.62 service aces/set on her own — the best mark in the Big Ten.
Head Coach Kelly Sheffield spoke of Ashburn and her serving efforts in a press conference Monday.
“[Ashburn] can hit it anywhere on the court,” Sheffield said. “You say, ‘Here, I want it to the left of the passer,’ and she’s gonna put it to the left of the passer with a lot of pace and a lot of movement on it.”
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An Ashburn serving spree could be the difference in a set where the Badgers pull away or mount a comeback.
The Badgers face Washington in the Wisconsin Field House Thursday at 8 p.m. and travel to Seattle to complete their non-conference schedule against the Huskies 8 p.m. Saturday. Thursday’s match will be on Fox Sports 1, and Saturday’s contest will be on the Pac 12 Network with both games broadcasted live on 100.9 FM.