The No. 7 Wisconsin volleyball team (17-5, 13-1 Big Ten) travels to Minneapolis Thursday to take on the University of Minnesota (19-3, 13-1) with conference championship implications. The Badgers will then return home to face Michigan State on Saturday.
The Badgers are still living in the shadow of their first loss in conference play to The Ohio State University one week ago. The loss allowed the No. 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers to catch the Badgers atop the Big Ten standings.
UW gets a chance to retake conference lead and ensure they have a tiebreaking win over the Gophers.
The Gophers are currently on an eight-game winning streak — the Badgers dealt them their last loss about a month ago.
Minnesota has been without senior setter Kylie Miller —
a UCLA transfer — for the last six games and 11 of their 14 Big Ten matches.
In the Badgers’ win over the Gophers earlier this year, sophomore Bayley McMenimen assumed the sole setting duties. But, in their last four matches, Minnesota has introduced freshman Tamara Dolonga as another setting option alongside McMenimen.
Both McMenimen and Dolonga are 5-foot-9 or shorter, which could force the Badgers to load attacks to the setters’ side of the net.
Middle blocker Dana Rettke dominated the previous matchup with the Gophers with one of her better performances this year: 16 kills at a .500 clip. While the Badgers’ have had their struggles against Minnesota, Rettke has found quite a bit of success.
In her five career games against the Gophers, Rettke has averaged 19.8 kills per match, only 1.8 errors per match and a hitting percentage of .517.
A big performance from Rettke seems inevitable due to her history. Most importantly, it might be necessary for a victory in this crucial border battle.
After the contest in Minneapolis, the Badgers return home for three straight contests at the UW Field House. The first of these being a matchup against the Michigan State Spartans — a team they swept already while Rettke rode the bench with a foot injury.
The Spartans (14-10, 5-9) pose another strong defensive threat to the Badgers. MSU has the second-best opponent’s hitting percentage in the Big Ten at .169.
Wisconsin’s high-powered offense will look to outside hitters Grace Loberg and Molly Haggerty — a pair who combined for 26 of the Badgers’ 41 kills against the Spartans in late October.
The Spartans have just one win in their last seven games. This sole win came against Northwestern, who only has one conference win this entire year — a win that came against the Spartans
MSU sits near the bottom in every offensive category and boasts only one player averaging three or more kills per set. The Badgers have three such players.