The Wisconsin volleyball team (10-4, 6-0 Big Ten) have ripped through their first six games of Big Ten play and face another challenging week with back-to-back games at home.

Of the No. 6 Badgers’ six conference wins, four have come against the six ranked opponents in the Big Ten. UW is the fifth ranked team and the final ranked team is the No. 17 Illinois Fighting Illini (9-6, 4-2) — their opponent for this Friday.

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Wisconsin gets the chance to grab another impressive win before facing Northwestern (9-9, 0-6 Big Ten) the next day. The Badgers swept the Northwestern University Wildcats in Evanston last Wednesday.

Last December, the Fighting Illini ended the Badgers’ bid for a NCAA National Championship in Champaign, but this is not the same Illini team.

Seniors Ali Bastianelli and All-American setter Jordyn Poulter departed, leaving serious holes Illinois has struggled to fill.

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Redshirt freshman Diana Brown has taken Poulter’s setter spot, but Illini hitters Megan Cooney and All-American Jacqueline Quade have seen more opportunities and less kills/set.

The Illini are a very difficult team to predict. They have wins over then-No. 7 Marquette and No. 17 Purdue but have dropped matches to inferior teams like Colorado and Illinois State.

Illinois has the most losses of any team in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Poll.

Shutting down Quade could go a long way to beating the Illini. Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield called her “one of the absolute best in the country at her position.”

The following day, the Badgers face Northwestern for the second time this season. The key to stopping Northwestern is to contain blooming freshman outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara — a difficult task for any defense in the country.

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Thomas-Ailara currently has the second-most kills/set in the Big Ten at 4.30 with Quade just ahead at 4.41.

In the Badgers’ sweep of the Wildcats, they punished the Northwestern’s defense with a variety of looks. Each of Wisconsin’s usual suspects were at net, but none of them had a monster performance.

The Badgers hit .380 against the Wildcats with 46 kills and just 11 errors.

As conference plays roll on, it is crucial for the Badgers to continue to evolve with such a lengthy schedule. A balanced offense plagues opposing defenses and helps when All-American middle blocker Dana Rettke has the full attention of an opponent’s defensive scheme.

A pair of wins this week would give the Badgers their first 8-0 start in conference play during Sheffield’s seven years at Wisconsin.