For the first time in Head Coach Kelly Sheffield’s seven years at the University of Wisconsin, the No. 6 UW volleyball team (12-4, 8-0 Big Ten) has won eight straight games. Ironically, the run comes after a 4-4 start to the season — his worst start to a season at Wisconsin.
The Badgers took out the No. 17 Illinois Fighting Illini (9-8, 4-4 Big Ten) in a five-set thriller Friday night before sweeping Northwestern (9-11, 0-8 Big Ten) the following night.
The Illini ended Wisconsin’s run in the NCAA Tournament last season in the Elite Eight.
This time, the Badgers did enough to overcome the Illini in five sets. Wisconsin dominated the first set before dropping consecutive sets to Illinois.
They ended the fourth set on a 9–5 run in a set filled with runs from both sides. That set up a final fifth set which the Badgers dominated from start to finish, 15–4.
In that fifth set, UW notched nine kills on just 13 swings at a blazing clip of .692 while holding the Illini to a .000 hitting percentage. You read that right: a .000 hitting percentage.
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The Badger defense forced 31 hitting errors from the Illini — their highest total of the year.
The following day, the Badgers swept Northwestern for the second time in this young Big Ten slate.
This time, Wisconsin did so without their two-time All-American middle blocker Dana Rettke.
Junior walk-on Nicole Shanahan started in Rettke’s stead and managed five kills, four blocks and an ace.
Sheffield said there was no timetable for Rettke’s return.
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While the Badgers won in straight sets, the pesky Wildcats remained in sets late thanks to junior Alana Walker.
Walker managed double-digit kills in consecutive games for the first time this season with an impressive .471 hitting percentage against the Badgers.
Outside hitter Grace Loberg carried the Badger offense as the only player to have double-digit kills.
The trio of Molly Haggerty, Madison Duello and Danielle Hart combined for just 19 kills at a .222 percentage as the Wildcat defense could feature a defensive plan without the fear of Rettke up the middle.
The Badgers totaled eight aces against Northwestern — a constant theme in their run throughout the Big Ten so far.
Wisconsin leads the Big Ten with 1.89 aces/set in conference play as Izzy Ashburn, Lauren Barnes and Rettke all have double-digit ace totals.
Their ability to serve efficiently has helped turn around their season and has improved dramatically from last season.
Last year, the Badgers averaged only 1.3 aces/set with a .653 service aces/service errors ratio. This season, UW is averaging 1.75 aces/set with a .875 ratio.
Wisconsin will look to extend their winning streak this weekend with matchups against Michigan State Friday and Michigan Sunday.