After a pair of wins over the weekend, the University of Wisconsin volleyball team (6-4, 2-0 Big Ten) faces perhaps their toughest stretch of the season with matchups against No. 5 Penn State and No. 2 Nebraska.
Both the Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2, 2-0 Big Ten) and the Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-1, 2-0 Big Ten) pose major threats to the Badgers’ impressive start to Big Ten play. Their combined three losses have all come from ranked opponents.
The Badgers will not face another test this grueling until late November when they face the two teams consecutively once again.
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A successful week will require a few key factors — sustained defensive effort, service aces and the Molly Haggerty who showed up against Indiana on Sunday afternoon.
After allowing a .457 hitting percentage against Washington, the Badgers buckled down on defense this weekend holding Purdue and Indiana to a combined .133 hitting percentage.
Head Coach Kelly Sheffield pointed to the improved defense in his press conference Monday.
“I think we were reading the game a little bit better. I thought our effort in the backcourt was really much better than what it has been,” Sheffield said. “We weren’t getting a ton of stuff blocked at times, but I thought our touches were positives.”
Penn State and Nebraska both pose major threats to this goal with their potent offenses hitting .285 and .243, respectively, despite schedules loaded with ranked opponents.
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The Badgers have overcome poor defensive performances this year with their dominance at the service line. To beat teams of this caliber, they will need to balance both.
Wisconsin is third in the Big Ten in aces per set with 1.69 thanks in large part to freshman Izzy Ashburn. But middle blocker Dana Rettke and libero Tiffany Clark have combined for 23 sets on their own.
Penn State has only allowed four or more aces in two matches this season — those two matches were their only losses on the season.
The Cornhuskers have allowed the second-fewest aces per set in the Big Ten trailing only the Nittany Lions.
Lastly, the Badgers need outside hitter Molly Haggerty to complement Rettke with special performances.
Haggerty has struggled to return to her freshman season from where she received the Big Ten Freshman of the Year honor. After a back injury forced her to redshirt in 2017, she struggled to regain footing in 2018, but the Molly of old has been seen in flashes recently.
The matchup with Penn State is at the UW Fieldhouse starting at 8 p.m. and the Nebraska contest is at 7 p.m. in Lincoln, Nebraska. Both matches can be seen on Big Ten Network or listened to on 100.9 FM.