In a few of their early-season losses, the No. 7 University of Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team (8-4, 4-0 Big Ten) struggled to close out sets. Between allowing lengthy serving runs and compiling hitting errors, the Badgers gave up late leads and dropped games to quality opponents.
This week, they closed out sets emphatically.
Wisconsin knocked off the No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-3, 3-1) in four sets Wednesday before sweeping No. 5 (11-2, 3-1) Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln Saturday night. They managed a combined .339 hitting percentage against two of the top defenses in the Big Ten.
A varied offensive attack that focused less on All-American junior middle blocker Dana Rettke left the Penn State and Nebraska defenses floundering.
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Against the Nittany Lions, junior outside hitter Grace Loberg tallied a career-high 21 kills on a blazing .486 hitting percentage.
After a close first two sets where the teams traded 25–23 victories, the Badgers dominated the final two sets, winning 25–13 in both.
A Badger run in the second set turned Penn State’s 16–12 lead into a Wisconsin 20–17 lead. This run seemed to continue throughout the rest of the match. From that 16–12 point, Loberg and company finished the match on a 63–33 run.
The Nittany Lions hit a combined .043 in the final two sets while allowing the Badgers to hammer out a .382 hitting percentage.
Following this impressive offensive display, the Badgers continued to swing freely against the Cornhuskers Saturday, finishing with a .376 hitting percentage and only nine errors. That is the highest mark Nebraska has allowed since 2011.
Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun led the offensive attack for the Cornhuskers on a day where defense was quite the rarity. Nebraska finished with a .336 hitting percentage and had the most kills of any of their matches that lasted only three sets. They still lost all three.
The story of the match was late Badger runs. Late in each set, the two teams were either tied or separated by only a point. Wisconsin finished the first set on a 9–4 run, the second set on an 11–5 run and the third set on a 6–2 run.
This is the first time Nebraska has been swept on their home floor since 2014.
Wisconsin finished with four players between 10 and 11 kills. Rettke landed 10 kills on 20 swings, but her middle blocking colleague sophomore Danielle Hart notched 10 kills herself on just 14 swings, giving her a .643 hitting percentage.
These impressive pair of wins gives Wisconsin some much- needed confidence following their early-season woes to ranked teams. The schedule technically eases up with only one ranked opponent this week instead of two.